Peaceful protesters gather in Portland, Oregon
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The withdrawal of federal agents from frontline policing of demonstrations in downtown Portland significantly reduced tensions in the city overnight.
Protesters in support of Black Lives Matter once again rallied near the federal courthouse that became a flashpoint, and the scene of nightly battles amid the swirl of tear gas, after Donald Trump dispatched agents to end what he called anarchy in the city after weeks of demonstrations.
But in the absence of the federal officers, Thursday night’s protest passed off without major incident or intervention by the police.
On Wednesday, Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, agreed with the White House that the state police would take over responsibility for guarding the courthouse after weeks of escalating protests. She said that “Trump’s troops” were behaving like an occupying army in Portland and provoking unrest with heavy-handed tactics.
In contrast, the state troopers did not intervene even when the scale of the protest on Thursday night passed the point, as demonstrators shook the fence around the courthouse, at which in early demonstrations the federal agents generally fired tear gas, stun grenades and baton rounds.
In the absence of confrontation, and with the state police remaining largely unseen inside the courthouse, tensions quickly eased. Without the federal forces to draw attention, protest organisers kept the focus on Black Lives Matters and reform of the Portland police.
Some in the crowd worked to avoid trouble by stopping demonstrators from lighting fires and shooting fireworks at the courthouse as they had done on previous nights.Dan Thomas, an African American man, stood in the street shouting at people not to cause a confrontation with the state police.
“Attacking the federal building is not Black Lives Matter. Leave it alone. You’re playing into Trump’s hands,” he said.
One woman shouted: “Stupid ass white people only here for their own reasons”.
Despite the concerns of many in the crowd that the Trump administration would not fulfil the agreement to pull back the federal officers, none were seen on the streets.Trump tweeted that the agents would remain in Portland until Brown brings the protests led by “anarchists and agitators” under control.
“If she can’t do it, the Federal Government will do it for her. We will not be leaving until there is safety!” Trump wrote.
Brown and Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, said the state and city police forces would seek to deescalate protests rather than confront demonstrators.
Wheeler, said that the city’s police, state troopers and county sheriff’s office had agreed not to use tear gas except where there was a threat to life or of serious injury.
“The federal officers are using CS gas broadly, indiscriminately and nightly,” he said. “That is why it is escalating the behaviour we’re seeing on the streets rather than deescalating it, and that’s why this must come to an end.”
Wheeler apologised for the Portland police using tear gas in late May and June to break up Black Lives Matter protests.
“It should never have happened,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Portland police cleared the two parks in front of the courthouse and county jail that served as a staging ground for the protests. Officers then sealed the parks off and marked them as closed. But that appeared strangely provocative and difficult to enforce.
When a few protesters tore down the yellow police tape, and began chanting: “Whose park? Our park?”, the Portland city officers quietly left the park and were not seen again for the rest of the evening.
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