Police Chief: Protesters weren't there to sing 'Kumbaya'
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw denied all claims of "favoritism" or "special treatment" by her officers during an unruly protest between dueling factions in downtown Portland.
The city's top law enforcement official defended the conduct of those policing the Saturday, Aug. 4 protest — which culminated when baton-swinging riot cops charged into the ranks of left-wing counter protesters. A conservative group across the street was left relatively untouched.
"One side might have been impacted a little bit more than the other," she admitted, but "we have to be neutral and we call it down the middle."
Police unleashed pepper spray, launched flash-bangs and fired rubber bullets as they cleared Southwest Columbia Street of anti-fascists known as Antifa around 2 p.m. From the other side of Naito Parkway, the group known as Patriot Prayer cheered.
Chief Outlaw said officers focused on the left-wing group because they were tossing firecrackers and rocks at the uniformed wall blocking their path to the waterfront. Officers advanced only after Antifa ignored multiple orders to disperse that were broadcast via amplified sound, she added.
"There's a lot of fingers being pointed at us," she said, "but where's the accountability for the people that come with the intent to harm, destroy and to tear things up."
"This wasn't folks that were coming to just march peacefully and demonstrate, sing Kumbaya and go on their way," she continued.
Outlaw expressed unwavering support for the rank-and-file during the press conference on the 15th floor of the Justice Center, 1111 S.W. 2nd Ave., on Monday, Aug. 6. But it appears that online outrage over the authorities' hard-nosed response has already made a thudding impact within the agency.
The Portland Police Bureau has temporarily suspended use of "aerial distraction devices" after widely-circulated images appeared to show a black canister protruding through a bike helmet and the bloodied head of the man apparently struck by it.
"The hit would have been lethal if he wasn't wearing a helmet," the counter protester's girlfriend told Raw Story.
Police say they have not spoken with the unidentified man but strongly encourage him to come forward. Assistant Chief Ryan Lee said the distraction device makes a bright flash and loud noise but is not technically a "flash-bang."
"They're trained to fire those not directly at individuals, they're trained to fire those over the crowd," Lee said. "It's designed to startle, distract people and make them want to leave the area."
At least two other people were injured during the police charge.
KATU photojournalist Ric Peavyhouse said he was struck by a "less lethal impact round" that left a bruise the size of his first.
The British newspaper The Guardian published an interview with Michelle Fawcett, who said she suffered "intense" injuries to her arm and chest after being hit by a flash-bang.
Reporters also questioned whether Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson cut a deal allowing his followers to avoid weapon screening stations if they entered in one area. Police spokesman Sgt. Christopher Burley said those statements were "not accurate."
When asked why the Patriot Prayer group was allowed to march west on Southwest Market Street from Naito Parkway without facing crowd control measures, Outlaw said "that's a good question, I don't have the answer to that."
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