The Eugene Mayor and Police Department held a press conference Monday to address the protests on Saturday and Sunday. EPD explained why they used certain tactics, such as tear gas.
The Mayor’s Response
Eugene protests have been mostly peaceful until this past weekend. On Saturday, a demonstration that started at the Federal Courthouse included tense interactions between Black Lives Matter protesters, and counter-protesters who said “All Lives Matter.” There were weapons carried by both sides. Later that night, some people graffitied and broke windows of local businesses and police deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd.
During the press conference, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis said EPD will continue to hold people accountable for criminal behavior, and protect the rights and lives of peaceful protesters.
“These violent actions are unacceptable and unworthy," said Vinis. "The antagonizing presence of heavily armed counter protesters—including one who shot his gun in the middle of the event on Saturday—have only added unnecessary fuel to create a more volatile situation. Their actions are not welcome here.”
“A smaller group who were not affiliated with a larger demonstration took advantage of a peaceful protest to incite violence and destruction," said Vinis. "These actions are intended to derail constructive progress and they are intended to increase tension. This is not a path we will follow.”
EPD Arrests and Tactics
Eight people were arrested Saturday night. Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner said seven of those “were arrested with some type of riotous behavior.”
When arresting these individuals, videos show three or more officers on top of some of the arrestees. Skinner explained the number of officers deployed when making an arrest.
“There is a minimum number of officers to affect an arrest, regardless of who it is," said Skinner. "Generally, it's two to take somebody into custody. And then in that environment, a person kind of watching to see if anybody's going to intervene to protect those officers. So what you saw was a fairly standard approach to an arrest.”
Skinner said the arrest of a 14-year-old took place after he said she was one of the protesters who threw rocks at a police car, and dragged paper boxes into the street to block officers. Skinner believes these rocks were not nearby, but rocks that were transported to the protest.
“We've got a picture that I shared with council that shows 50-70 rocks laying in the middle of the street—all of which are baseball sized—that were being thrown at officers," said Skinner.
Skinner said officers were bruised and some were hit in the head, but they were wearing helmets and did not experience major injuries.
After taking the minor into custody and learning her age, the 14-year-old was cited, released to her parents, and will go through the juvenile system.
Police also used tear gas to disperse a crowd of protesters late Saturday night, after some members of the group set fires and damaged several local businesses. Skinner said they are still learning how to deal with protests that escalate into riots.
“House bill 4208 clearly defines when CS gas can be used," said Skinner. "And we're adhering to that to the letter of the law, just like we did on Saturday night with admonishments, and declaring a riot only after the significant criminal activity was occurring. And even then, we used it judiciously just to protect officers that were getting rocks thrown at them."
Federal Officers in Eugene
President Trump announced the deployment of more federal officers last week in protest cities such as Portland. Now, people are questioning if federal agents have been present at local protests.
According to Skinner, federal officers have not been deployed in Eugene.
“Any federal officers that have been deployed here have been deployed here inside the federal building, and have not exited the federal building," said Skinner. "I’ve been really clear, Eugene Police Department takes care of Eugene streets.”
Skinner also said they have footage of an individual who claimed to be an undercover EPD officer. But Skinner said that person is not associated with EPD, and are investigating the situation, as Skinner said he “engaged in some assaultive behavior.”
Preparing for Future Protests, Helping Damaged Businesses
A curfew was not implemented Saturday or Sunday, and Skinner said the implementation of one was not discussed Saturday night. He said they do not plan to implement a curfew in the future, to allow protesters to get their message across.
“We knew that we were going to have a big protest, and we knew that it was going to be emotionally charged," said Skinner. "But because of the progress we've made, that's that trust that we knew we wouldn't need a curfew.”
Vinis said the city will assist businesses with some cleanup, and encouraged protesters to be mindful of local business owners.
“The businesses of our downtown core are our community’s lifeblood," said Vinis. "As we recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, we will depend on these local employers to rebuild and to bring people back to work. There is no equity of opportunity if there are no businesses upon which to build those opportunities. We will protect the center of our city because it is our center, and it holds our future.”
Eugene city council member Greg Evans said city counselors will only support peaceful protesting.
“No violence, no justice, no peace," said Evans. "If we're peaceful [and] nonviolent, then we will get to justice.”