Since our last post on the ongoing demonstrations in Portland, which ended with concern about additional federal officers quietly having entered Seattle, the scope and direction of the demonstrations in both cities have changed.
Federal officers appear to be departing, the courts are increasingly busy, and there are still conflicts to be resolved between the groups demonstrating in both cities, their respective city councils, and their local police forces.
On Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to end any further cooperation between the Portland Police Bureau and federal officers sent to protect federal properties like the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse and to actively counter demonstrations around these same facilities.
On Friday, July 24th, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman denied a request for an injunction sought by Oregon Sate Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to force federal officers to identify both themselves and their agency before arresting or detaining a person, and to prohibit arrests that lack probable cause.
Mosman declared that the state of Oregon lacked standing in large part because no damage to the interests of the state had been shown to have taken place.
He also found that no demonstrator had been included in the injunction, and that “injunctive relief requires more than a showing that a plaintiff has been harmed; it requires a showing that she will likely be harmed again.”
This second reason is based largely on federal Supreme Court case Lyons versus City of Los Angeles, which sets a very high standard.
That same day, two of Oregon’s members of Congress — Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, joined by several colleagues — sent a letter to acting Director of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, requesting his resignation.
“The people of Portland were protesting police brutality, and you responded to them with further brutality… These are authoritarian tactics that go against the bedrock of our democratic principles,” the letter stated.
Meanwhile, the United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, Billy J. Williams, said that the demonstrations in downtown Portland were “hijacking the moment in history” and questioned how long the larger community would tolerate the destruction of property as a response to the murders of Black people by police.
Williams also initially denied that federal officers had gone beyond the boundaries of federal property to confront people protesting, but when confronted with evidence that it had happened, he amended his comments.
State legislators in Oregon, hoping to be more responsive to the Black Lives Matter movement than Congress has been, have released concepts for the Legislature’s next round of police reform bills, including a complete ban on the use of chokeholds and tear gas as well as new efforts to crack down on the arbitration appeal process for the discipline of law enforcement personnel.
(The issue of a more comprehensive ban on tear gas matters, as the last bill passed in special session restricting tear gas use hasn’t stopped the Portland Police Bureau from continuing to use it.)
It isn’t known as yet when the next special session of the Legislature will take place, but the Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform will hold a series of hearings on the concepts.
Another proposal would require police officers to display their last name and badge number unless undercover and provide that information to any member of the public who asks for it. Officers covering their names while responding to protests is now a common practice by the Portland Police Bureau.
Last week, well over one thousand and possibly as many as two thousand demonstrators were protesting in front of federal facilities in downtown Portland. As can be seen, tensions ran high and tear gas was abundant in response — enough for the latter to reach inmates at the Multnomah County Detention Center.
On Saturday, July 25th, U.S. Attorney Williams stated in a phone interview that the ban approved by the Portland City Council on July 22nd was “nonsensical, political theater” and urged local citizens to convince “violent extremists,” who keep trying to breach a protective fence around the federal facilities, to leave.
Later that evening, somewhere in the neighborhood of four thousand protesters were present, and federal officers initially didn’t confront them, retreating into the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. But when a section of fence, put up by federal officers some time ago and a bone of contention ever since, was torn down around 1 AM Sunday morning (without the demonstrators crossing onto federal property), Portland police declared a riot and federal officers re-emerged to drive the demonstrators back using tear gas and pepper spray.
As a result of Saturday evening’s protests, additional federal officers were being sent to support those already in place in Portland.
Black Lives Matter representatives in Portland, meanwhile, have been frustrated by the direction in which the demonstrations are going.
One recent development, however, is that the leadership of the Wall of Moms involved in the Portland demonstrations have handed over their authority to Don’t Shoot Portland for guidance and instruction.
For those interested, there is a brief and effective visual summary here of how the situation in Portland has escalated in recent weeks, and this piece highlights portions of this past weekend.
On Monday, July 27th, two new lawsuits were filed. The first, by a group led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is a motion for contempt and for sanctions against federal authorities for refusing to comply with a restraining order on June 23rd that prohibiting federal troops from arresting or targeting journalists and legal observers unless they were committing a specific crime.
The second, by Don’t Shoot Portland, the group Wall of Moms and five individual plaintiffs, claims federal officials used intimidation, threats of violence and disappearances to deprive protesters of their constitutional rights to free speech, free assembly and due process, and their freedom from unreasonable seizures.
On Tuesday, July 29, Governor Kate Brown announced a deal with the Trump regime that would remove most federal officers, replacing them with state police to protect federal facilities in downtown Portland. The Trump regime is sending mixed messages in response, but the deal appears as if it will proceed.
POSTSCRIPT: By now you may have heard of the story of some federal officers at the Portland demonstrations with “ZTI” tags on their gear, identifying them as contract employees of ZTI Solutions, a firm that has been hired in the past by the American military, potentially opening accusations of their being mercenaries given their present role in Portland.
That said, as with the Portland Police, reported earlier here, it is more than problematic that those who are detained, arrested and/or harmed cannot identify these individuals to bring charges against them or the authority they represent.
Late on the evening of Wednesday, July 22nd, a group of approximately one hundred and fifty people gathered at Cal Anderson Park on behalf of the Youth Liberation Front Seattle Division and proceeded to vandalize local businesses in Capitol Hill, re-assembled at Cal Anderson Park, then dispersed.
A federal tactical border control team arrived at Boeing Field on Thursday, July 23rd, ostensibly to protect federal facilities in the Seattle area, joining Customs and Border Protection and Federal Protective Service personnel quietly brought to the city sometime in early July.
King County Executive Dow Constantine reacted by posting a pair of tweets. “Let me be clear: this community rejects Trump’s unconstitutional use of federal force. It is a transparent attempt to intimidate. But we will not be intimidated… Know your rights. Stay vigilant, stay safe, and stay away from federal agents.”
The following day, Friday, July 24th, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan stated at a press conference: “Be peaceful… If you come out in the streets and raise your voices, not only is it your right, but in many ways, it’s our obligation, but for those who are bent on destruction, those who want the fight to come, I say to you stop.”
That same day, the Department of Justice requested a restraining order to prevent the Seattle Police Department from implementing the Seattle City Council’s ban on crowd-control weapons, due to take effect on Sunday, July 26th, which had been passed unanimously by the City Council on June 15th after some disagreement over final specifics.
Later on July 24th, Judge James Robart of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington granted the request, due to expire within fourteen days, with a briefing and joint status report required regarding the status of the restraining order to be available no later than August 1st.
Here’s a bit of background on what led up to the restraining order.
On June 12th, Judge Richard Jones of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a temporary restraining order that restricted the Seattle Police Department from using specific “less lethal” crowd control devices, though police would be allowed to use such weapons if they saw protesters engaging in “violent or life-threatening activity.”
On June 15th, the Seattle City Council passed its more comprehensive ban. It was returned by Mayor Durkan on June 26th, unsigned, and attested (its existence officially declared) that same day by the City Clerk.
On June 17th, Judge Jones’ restraining order was extended to September 30th.
On July 17th, the office of the City Attorney for the City of Seattle served notice that it had been advised by the Department of Justice that the comprehensive ban was in violation of the federal consent decree for the Seattle Police Department that has been in place since 2012.
The consent decree is an an agreement made after a Department of Justice investigation found the Seattle Police Department had a pattern of using excessive force, and also had policies and practices that could result in bias against minorities. The City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department are required to present any proposed changes to existing use-of-force and crowd control policies to the Department of Justice and police monitor for review and ultimately to the court for its approval. This was not done regarding the comprehensive ban.
This violation was the basis for the request by the Department of Justice for its restraining order. Judge Robart’s action means that Judge Jones’ restraining order remains the basis for the restriction of crowd control devices.
Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best had reacted to this situation on July 23rd with a statement that among other things stated that such restrictions “will create even more dangerous circumstances for our officers to intervene using what they have left – riot shields and riot batons.”
The next day, the windows of the Southwest Precinct police facility were boarded up, implying that the facility might be abandoned, in “an adjusted deployment in response to any demonstrations this weekend,” as had been done earlier at one point at the East Precinct police facility in Capitol Hill on June 8th after Mayor Durkin ordered protective barriers removed, which were seen as a focal point of multiple days of clashes between demonstrators and police.
This has been a point of contention for some time now between Chief Best and Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, whose West Seattle-centered district includes the Southwest Precinct facility.
However, some individuals eventually slipped away from the march and lit five trailers on fire at the construction site at 12th Avenue and Jefferson Street for the new King County Children and Family Justice Center, and later repeated the process at a Starbucks on 12th Avenue and East Columbia Street.
Others concurrently attempted to damage the lobby of the Seattle Police East Precinct, apparently using an explosive that put an eight-inch hole in the facility and caused structural damage, though details are still somewhat sketchy.
The Seattle Police had to evacuate apartments above the Starbucks for the safety of the residents and declared that a riot was taking place, which led to the Seattle Police using flash-bangs, pepper spray, forty-millimeter “sponge tip” rounds and blast balls, eventually arresting forty-seven demonstrators.
Fifty-nine police officers were declared injured in the demonstrations. There was no official declaration of the number of injuries suffered by protesters.
Police Chief Best, at a brief press conference late Saturday night, said: “I implore people to come to the city in peace… We support everyone’s First Amendment right to free speech and to gather and assemble in such a way. But what we saw today was not peaceful… The rioters had no regard for the community’s safety, for officers’ safety or for the businesses and property that they destroyed.”
The following day, Sunday, July 26th, several preemptive arrests and acquisition and removal of support vehicles for the demonstrators at Westlake Plaza took the air out of a planned demonstration at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices alongside the US Immigration Review Court on 2nd Avenue.
Cal Anderson Park was also declared closed, but demonstrators organized there anyway and moved ahead with their demonstrations just before 7 PM, with police attempting to restrict movement without being immediately confrontational. However, by mid-to late evening, most of the demonstrators had dispersed.
On Monday, July 27th, the Seattle-King County branch of Black Lives Matter and the ACLU filed a motion of contempt for violating Judge Jones’ restraining order, “ambushing peaceful protesters.”
On Tuesday, July 28th, Seattle authorities were notified that the federal tactical border control team that had arrived on July 23rd had been withdrawn.
This saga is by no means over. Only time will tell what the future holds.