Police response to Portland anti-Trump protests shifts based on ‘tenor and tone’ each night

Portland police have been trying to gauge the “tenor and tone” of each night’s post-election protests in determining how to respond, Chief Mike Marshman said Monday.

Flanks of riot control-clad officers moved in Friday night, firing tear gas and flash-bang grenades on Southwest Fourth Avenue because officers were being pelted with bottles and flares, in stark contrast to prior nights when the police largely stayed behind-the-scene.

After the chief’s and mayor’s pleas largely went ignored for demonstrators to obtain permits to march in the city’s streets and not block bridges or freeways, the police decided they needed to stand firmer with a more visible presence, the chief said.

“We were hoping having that visible presence would be a deterrent, but that didn’t work either,” Marshman told The Oregonian/OregonLive Monday morning. “Each night is a little different for us. We’re trying to see how many people are out and figuring out the tenor and tone of the crowd.”

“It’s an art. It’s not a science,” the chief said. “We don’t want to go over the top with the police response, but yet we have to show that we’re serious. We’re okay with people voicing their First Amendment right to protest. We’re not OK with violence and the criminal element. It’s very, very frustrating for us.”

The use of the less-than-lethal munitions, such as pepper spray balls, tear gas and flash-bang grenades, are not to simply more people along, the chief said. Those were used after officers were “taking rocks, bottles, Roman candles and flares,” he said.

“We’re simply not going to allow that,” Marshman said.

He said the officers work to warn the crowd repeatedly to disperse before those devices are fired, through a loudspeaker on top of a police van. “It should not have been a surprise to anybody,” he said. “It’s what we have to do – what we should do.”

The chief praised his officers who often have to stand for hours blocking streets. “A lot of these officers are young and haven’t seen this before,” Marshman said, noting that some of the police officers weren’t born when the city saw significant unrest on the city streets during former President George H.W. Bush’s tenure.

The bureau’s responses are being coordinated by six crowd control incident commanders, who rotate each night, the chief said.

The bureau is relying upon its four squads of 15- to 18-member Rapid Response Teams, trained in crowd control, along with mobile field forces staffed by precinct officers. At times, the precincts have had to limit their patrol responses to only emergency priority calls, because some officers have been pulled to protest coverage, the chief said.

The bureau hasn’t yet tallied up the overtime costs stemming from its protest coverage, but expects to have figures in a week, the chief said.

“We’re trying to be prudent, but it is what it is,” Marshman said.

Though the shooting of a 21-year-old protester on the Morrison Bridge early Saturday likely had nothing to do with the subject of the demonstration, “I can’t think of a more blatant example,” of the danger of demonstrators taking over a bridge or freeway,” the chief said.

The shooter emerged from a car that was attempting to drive over the bridge, and fired because the occupants of the car “got obstructed from going over the bridge,” Marshman said. The occupants of the car were gang affiliates, the chief said.

A 14-year-old boy and an 18-year-old, Shamar Xavier Hunter, were taken into custody, accused of attempted murder and unlawful use of a weapon. They’re expected to make court appearances Monday afternoon.

The victim, Louis Carlos Paredes-Luis, was shot in the leg, suffered significant bleeding and was tended to by Portland police officers at the scene, the chief said. There’s no indication the accused knew the man they shot.

The chief said he’s concerned about the demonstrations’ impact on local businesses, particularly with the holiday season approaching. He said he expects there will be similar marches during President elect-Donald J. Trump’s inauguration.

“It’s my desire that folks feel like their voices have been heard, and hopefully between now and then, it calms down somewhat,” Marshman said. “We simply can’t afford to do this day in and day out.”

— Maxine Bernstein

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