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Head Of Portland Police Union Condemns Nightly Protests — But Not Federal Officers

Protesters demonstrate against racism and police violence in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse on July 18, 2020. The  federal police presence has galvanized protesters, bringing out a larger group than on recent nights.
Protesters demonstrate against racism and police violence in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse on July 18, 2020. The federal police presence has galvanized protesters, bringing out a larger group than on recent nights.

After protesters lit a fire in the headquarters of the Portland Police Association Saturday evening, union president Daryl Turner once again condemned the nightly protests against police brutality and refused to say he wanted federal officers, who have reinvigorated the demonstrations, to leave.

“Our city is under siege by rioters,” he told a crowd of reporters Sunday outside the police union in North Portland, echoing a description of the city that the federal government and right-wing media outlets have pushed repeatedly in recent days.

“Portland, it is time to stand up. It is time to tell your elected officials that the city is under siege because of their inaction. Our elected officials have condoned the destruction and chaos of our city,” he continued. “They have placed their political agendas ahead of all of us.”

In the last week, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the other three city commissioners, along with Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon's two U.S. senators, have made it clear they believe the federal officers deployed to the city are escalating tensions.

Wheeler has accused President Donald Trump of deploying his “personal army,” using Portland as a staging ground for a fight to bolster his polling numbers. He said he wants the officers out.

But Turner sidestepped the question Saturday when asked by a reporter. Others at the press event had called for federal officers to leave. 

“That’s why we have a diverse group of people here. It doesn't mean we’re on the same page on everything. I believe it needs more coordination,” Turner said. "It needs more coordination with the Portland Police Bureau leading the way.”

The union invited others to come to speak out against the protests. Antoinette Edwards, the former director of the Mayor’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention, said the current state of protest, which she called misplaced and misguided, would “grieve the soul” of late civil rights icon John Lewis. Lewis died Friday.

While the speakers invited to the press conference focused on the violence they said was perpetuated by protesters, a resident turned the focus to violence being perpetrated by the Portland police, the primary focus of the nightly protests.

Damesha Smith, 27, saw the press conference going on from her window across North Lombard Street. While Smith has not been taking part in the nightly protests, she went outside to protest the press conference.

“I’m tired of hearing the police saying protesters are violent and everyone’s so fearful,” she said. “In reality, most people only become scared when police are involved.”

Living so close to the union headquarters, where protests are occasionally held, Smith said she’s seen instances of police violence up close. She said tear gas regularly seeps into her apartment, and there’s now a layer of the powder sitting on her window sill.

And on June 30, one of the first nights protesters gathered outside the Portland Police Association headquarters,

Smith, who is Black, said she was arrested on one of the first nights protesters gathered outside the union headquarters. 

Smith said she was on her way home from work at a local towing company, waiting for the riot officers to clear the area, when a police officer mistook her for a protester. Smith said the officer hit her with a baton, leaving large bruises that lasted for over a month. She sent OPB photos of the bruises, which appear deep purple and about the size of a fist.

Court records show Smith was arrested for attempted assault, harassment and interfering with an officer. She said she was yelling and cursing at the police but denies hitting anyone or resisting arrest

“Protesters aren't going around hitting, terrorizing nobody,” she said. “It’s the police.”

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime advocate for police reform, on Saturday called on Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to hand over control to the police bureau to her, citing Wheeler’s denial of the violence being carried out by local law enforcement. Wheeler has yet to comment.

Asked about Hardesty’s call to lead the bureau, Turner said the matter was between her and Wheeler to decide.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting