Rioters in Portland on Thursday tried setting a police precinct on fire for the second consecutive night, just hours after Mayor and Police Commissioner Ted Wheeler accused them of attempted murder.
Wheeler, a Democrat, held a press conference and gave his most forceful condemnation of the nightly violence, which has continued nearly nonstop since late May.
“When you commit arson with an accelerant in an attempt to burn down a building that is occupied by people that you have intentionally trapped inside, you are not demonstrating, you are attempting to commit murder,” Wheeler said.
Rioters blocked the primary entrance and exit to the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct on Wednesday night and tried setting the building on fire.
Citing a briefing he received from police and fire officials, Wheeler said people could have died.
“I believe that city staff could have died last night. I cannot and I will not tolerate that. This is not peaceful protest. This is not advocacy to advance reforms or transform any system,” the mayor told reporters.
“Last night’s violence by rioters at our east precinct was incomprehensible. We have people who are intentionally planning to go out and attack precincts, trap people inside, set fires to these buildings,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell added.
Rioters are coordinating and planning the attacks ahead of time, according to officials.
The Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation, a radical group linked to the far-left Antifa network, organized at least one of the riots this week. The group is pushing for the abolition of the police department and the prison system.
Rioters are prone to chanting out “Black Lives Matter” but officials say they are not affiliated with the movement.
Approximately 20 police officers were inside the bureau’s East Precinct on Wednesday, along with civilian staffers. The building is connected to townhomes, putting others at risk if it goes up in flames. Within seven minutes of arriving, rioters ripped protective boards from the precinct, used them to jam the front doors, and made a pile that they added accelerant to before ignition. At the same time, others shined lasers at surveillance cameras so officers couldn’t see what was happening.
Lt. Damon Simmons with Portland Fire & Rescue said rioters were “using fire as a weapon,” which could prove deadly.
Eight people were arrested for criminal activity, including one from Minnesota and one from Kentucky.
Portland Police Sgt. Brent Maxey told reporters in a separate press conference on Thursday that he was one of three officers inside the Justice Center, a county building, on June 29. He recounted how 150 to 200 rioters showed up and told officers directly they planned on killing them and burning the building down.
“They were tearing pieces of plywood off to expose the windows … It got to the point where they were throwing burning material into the lobby through gaps in the windows and blowing marijuana smoke. It was almost like a scene out of a horror movie. It was really unnerving,” he said.
Just hours later, rioters gathered at the East Precinct on Thursday night and began to spray paint and dismantle surveillance cameras.
When two elderly women from the community tried stopping them, the group dumped an unknown white liquid, believed to be paint, on them.
The group soon lit a garbage can on fire and pushed it against the front of the building. One of the women tried extinguishing the flames but was blocked by several black-clad demonstrators.
Portland police officers declared an unlawful assembly around 10 p.m. and dispersed the crowd with the help of Oregon state troopers, who are helping deal with the continued unrest in a deal reached late last month.
As officers dispersed the crowd, they were hit with projectiles including glass bottles and heavy rocks. Several people with “press” affixed to their persons joined others in hurling projectiles. Rioters deployed a new weapon, large rebar ties, which damaged the tires of several police vehicles.
Pushed into nearby neighborhoods, the group at one point went back to a residential home they visited the previous evening and harassed a woman there. Her neighbors emerged with weapons and told the rioters to leave.
A dozen adults were arrested, including a Kentucky man and a Pennsylvania resident, for charges including riot, disorderly conduct, and interfering with a police officer. A juvenile was also detained.
Wheeler, the mayor and police commissioner, has struggled to put forth a plan to quell the violence. He’s promoted a mix of appeasement and de-escalation that he said was working until federal officers arrived in larger numbers in early July to protect a federal courthouse.
Since the agreement between the state and federal officials in July, rioters have turned their attention to other buildings, primarily local and county law enforcement facilities.
Wheeler took more of a hardline stance on Thursday.
“This is criminal activity. It’s serious. Lives are at stake, and I’m authorizing the Portland Police Bureau and our affiliated agencies at Multnomah County and the state of Oregon to do whatever is necessary to safely hold those people accountable who are engaged in criminal activity and bring these nightly activities to a close,” he said.
The city will work with prosecutors and the courts to try to make sure people committing crimes are convicted, Wheeler said.
Another new angle was urging people who want to protest non-violently to stay away from the rioting.
“If you are a nonviolent demonstrator, and you are demonstrating for racial justice and equity and police reform, you don’t want to be part of this, you don’t want to show up,” Wheeler said.
He also admonished criminals, telling them that video footage of the rioting “will be used in ads nationally to help Donald Trump during his campaign.”
Other officials also appealed to people who keep joining the mayhem.
“If you are involved in this, please stop,” Simmons said. “If you are around someone who is involved in this, please ask them to stop.”