Oregon governor resists using National Guard in active role

June 2, 2020 GMT
1 of 18
Thousands walk over the Ferry Street Bridge in Eugene, Ore., during a Black Lives Matter March on Sunday, May 31, 2020, about the deaths of George Floyd and others. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)
1 of 18
Thousands walk over the Ferry Street Bridge in Eugene, Ore., during a Black Lives Matter March on Sunday, May 31, 2020, about the deaths of George Floyd and others. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Monday she won’t send National Guard troops to actively help quell violent protests in Portland over the killing of George Floyd because they aren’t needed and that “is exactly what President Trump wants.”

Protests continued Monday evening and night throughout the city, with thousands of people marching through neighborhoods for the fifth consecutive night.

At a news conference, Brown said she would send 100 state police from around Oregon to assist the city, and would activate 50 unarmed National Guard troops to work in support and behind the scenes. Earlier Monday, President Donald Trump slammed many governors as “weak” in teleconference and demanded tougher crackdowns on burning and stealing during some demonstrations.

“You don’t defuse violence by putting soldiers on the streets,” Brown, at Democrat, countered. “Trump wants governors to deploy the National Guard as a show of force to intimidate the public. I want to ensure that the public can safely raise their voices in this much-needed call for reform.”

Portland remains under a curfew order that takes effect at 8 p.m. nightly. On Monday, however, the police went even further and ordered all citizens out of a large area of downtown Portland starting at 4 p.m. On Twitter, the agency said demonstrators could protest outside the no-go zone.

Police have arrested at least 75 people in the past three nights during demonstrations over the killing of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee against his neck.

Eleven adults were arrested during protests Sunday and three juveniles were detained. Earlier Monday, authorities said projectiles — including “large, industrial grade mortar-type fireworks” — were thrown at officers and windows in a federal courthouse had been shattered.

Brown said the violence is being perpetrated by a small segment of the demonstrators and said she refused to deploy the National Guard on Sunday at Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s request because she was concerned it would escalate a tense situation.

“This is a very difficult time for our state and our entire nation. Senseless violence does not honor George Floyd’s death,” she said, adding later that “having soldiers on the streets of America is exactly what President Trump wants.”

Earlier Monday, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy J. Williams had asked Brown to deploy National Guard troops to the city to guard infrastructure such as federal courthouses and police offices.

“What I saw at the Justice Center …. was sickening. This has to stop and in order for that to happen in the city of Portland, we need help,” Williams said of the protests Sunday. “We need bodies, we need more numbers to do something to stop this ridiculous violence. This just cannot keep up.”

The violence came after thousands of protesters held a largely peaceful demonstration outside the Multnomah County Justice Center in downtown Portland. At one point, some police officers took a knee with protesters and three people in the crowd had a private talk with Police Chief Jami Resch, authorities said.

“We saw people at their very worst and we saw people at their very best,” said Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis, who thanked protesters who remained peaceful. “Our strategy last night was to make sure that whatever happened, the police bureau was not the cause and so we decided to give them a greater space and give them the time to express themselves.”

The Multnomah County GOP criticized the police response in a statement, saying the Portland Police Bureau and Wheeler were being too easy on protesters and should not have allowed them to violate the curfew order without consequences.

“After all of Portland’s experience with mass protests, can the police really be so incompetent as to fail to encircle these crowds and arrest them all? Of course not. This is a deliberate policy choice to promoting further disorder,” said Chairman James Buchal.

Elsewhere in Oregon, authorities said between 7,000 and 10,000 people gathered at the federal courthouse in Eugene on Sunday and marched to a local park in a peaceful demonstration. After the event ended, about 1,000 people continued to protest.

Some protesters surrounded a car after its driver sprayed something at them and another occupant fired a gun into the ground, angering the crowd, police said. Authorities intervened and no one was injured. In another incident, a man with semi-automatic weapon got out of a Jeep that was parked in the road but a protester was able to keep the crowd back until the man got back into the Jeep and left, said Eugene police spokesman John Hankemeier. The incident is under investigation.

In Salem, up to 400 people marched and got into a confrontation with police that resulted in between six to eight arrests.

Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing. The encounter was caught by a bystander on video. His death has prompted protests across the U.S. and Europe.