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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is putting Portland in the hands of Oregon State Police (OSP) and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) this week in preparation for election-related protests.
“We’ve seen firsthand what happens when free expression is fueled by hate,” said Brown at a Monday press conference.”We know there are some people who might want to use peaceful election night protests to promote violence and property destruction. That behavior is not acceptable.”
The leadership structure will be similar to what Portland saw on September 26, when Brown put OSP and MCSO in charge of responding to a Portland rally organized by the Proud Boys, a far-right nationalist organization. This means officers with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) will be adhering to rules and following orders laid out by OSP and MCSO—which includes the ability to use CS gas (a variety of tear gas) against members of the public, despite it being banned by Mayor Ted Wheeler.
This decision took weeks to agree on. On October 26, Wheeler said the meetings between state and federal officials on who would be in command during potential protests forced everyone to “compromise a little bit.”
Before the Proud Boy rally in late September, both MCSO and OSP refused to assist Portland police in responding to the event unless they were able to use CS gas. It’s this disagreement that pushed Brown to make the last-minute call to place the county and state agencies in command that weekend. It’s unclear if this week’s structure was based on the same problem.
Neither Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese nor Brown would say whether or not their agencies would have participated if they could not use CS gas on the public. Brown did, however, defend its use.
“Law enforcement needs these tools at this time to keep Oregonians safe and to protect property,” Brown said.
OSP, MCSO, and PPB have all been named in various lawsuits filed over the past five months for indiscriminately using CS gas on crowds of people during Portland’s racial justice protests. The latest litigation was filed Sunday evening by a group of Portlanders with disabilities, accusing police of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by their use of tear gas and other crowd-control weapons.
In a statement emailed to the press after Brown’s announcement Monday, Wheeler said he appreciated Brown’s decision.
“Our partnership prevented violence in the past and I hope it will do so again,” said Wheeler.
According to OSP Superintendent Terri Davie, this week’s jurisdictional hand-off will begin Monday night at 5 pm and last for at least 48 hours. It will be up to Brown to decide if that timeframe should be extended past 5 pm Wednesday.
Brown said she’ll also have Oregon soldiers with the U.S. National Guard on standby during this time period, “should services be deemed necessary.”
The size and scope of predicted demonstrations this week in Portland is still unknown. After 2016’s presidential election, hundreds of Portlanders took to the streets for nights to protest the results, with some people breaking business and car windows in the process. It was the last time PPB used CS gas on protesters before this summer.
“If you take one thing from today’s press conference,” Brown said Monday, “let it be this: violence is never the answer. We can all do our part this week being calm, cool, and collected.”