Feds will stay in Portland until attacks end: US attorney

PORTLAND (AP) — United States (US) militarised officers will remain in Portland until attacks on a federal courthouse cease, a top official said on Monday after another night of violence. And more officers may soon be on the way.

“It is not a solution to tell federal officers to leave when there continues to be attacks on federal property and personnel,” US Attorney Billy Williams said. “We are not leaving the building unprotected to be destroyed by people intent on doing so.”

Local and state officials said the federal officers are unwelcome.

Meanwhile, the mayors of Portland and five other major US cities appealed on Monday to Congress to make it illegal for the federal government to deploy militarised agents to cities that do not want them.

“This administration’s egregious use of federal force on cities over the objections of local authorities should never happen,” the mayors of Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Washington wrote to leaders of the US House and Senate.

A demonstrator speaks to a crowd during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O Hatfield US Courthouse. PHOTO: AP

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty later called for a meeting with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to discuss a ceasefire and removal of heightened federal forces from Portland.

The city has had nightly protests for two months since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. US President Donald Trump said he sent federal agents to Portland to halt the unrest, but state and local officials said they are making the situation worse.

Trump’s deployment of the federal officers over the July 4 weekend stoked the Black Lives Matter movement. The number of nightly protesters had dwindled to perhaps less than 100 right before the deployment, and now has swelled to the thousands.

On Monday, US agents repeatedly fired tear gas, flash bangs and pepper balls at protesters outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. Some protesters had climbed over the fence surrounding the courthouse, while others shot fireworks, banged on the fence and projected lights on the building.

Trump said on Twitter that federal properties in Portland “wouldn’t last a day” without the presence of the federal agents.

The majority of people participating in the daily demonstrations have been peaceful. But a few have been pelting officers with objects and trying to tear down fencing protecting the Mark O Hatfield US Courthouse.

Williams, whose office is inside the courthouse, called on peaceful protesters, community and business leaders and people of faith to not allow violence to occur in their presence and to leave downtown before violence starts. He said federal agents have made 83 arrests.

Demonstrations in support of racial justice and police reform in other cities around the US were marred by violence over the weekend. Protesters set fire to an Oakland, California, courthouse; vehicles were set ablaze in Richmond, Virginia; an armed protester was shot and killed in Austin, Texas; and two people were shot and wounded in Aurora, Colorado, after a car drove through a protest.

The US Marshals Service has lined up about 100 people they could send to hotspots, either to strengthen forces or relieve officers who have been working for weeks, agency spokesperson Drew Wade said.

Principal Deputy Director of Federal Protective Service Kris Cline said an incident commander in Portland and teams from the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice discuss what force is needed every night.

Cline refused to discuss the number of officers currently present or if more would be arriving.

Some protesters have accused Wheeler of hypocrisy for speaking out against the federal presence because, under his watch, Portland police have used tear gas and other riot-control weapons on protesters, including peaceful ones.

Cline said Portland police should take over the job of dispersing protesters from the courthouse area from the federal officers.