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Police say they could not stop vandalism in the Pearl District on Saturday because they were responding to shootings.

KOIN 6 NEWS - A protester confronts a reident in  the Pearl District on Saturday night.Protests in the Pearl District and a number of shootings throughout Portland kept police busy last weekend, frustrating residents throughout the city.

The shootings, which left three people dead, happened at about the same time as the destructive demonstration in the Pearl District that reportedly was a response to President Biden's immigration policies, police brutality and racism on Saturday, Feb. 27.

There were also fights between protesters and onlookers Saturday night. Residents in the Pearl District said they are fed up with demonstrators vandalizing businesses and causing destruction.

"We want this stuff to stop. They don't have the right to damage our property and scare people so they're afraid," said Pearl District resident Jane Orlowski. "We would like police here to be protecting our property."

Orlowski said the protests have been going on for nearly a year "and we are so tired of it."

"We don't know why they're in our neighborhood, what their point is. We see shops being boarded up again after they've just (been) unboarded recently. And these small little businesses, they can't afford this."

Two people were arrested at the protests. In a statement to KOIN 6 News, the Portland Police Bureau said, "Police response was constrained by multiple shooting incidents happening across the city, limiting the officers available to address the criminal behavior in the protest."

One of those incidents was the shooting at the Acropolis Steakhouse in the 8300 block of Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard that left two people dead.

Portland Police Association President Brian Hunzeker said staffing levels for police need to be higher.

"The officers were dealing with major incidents throughout the city that affect the community in such a negative way. Families are being hurt; people are dying," Hunzeker told KOIN 6 News. "And then, when we have an outrageous demonstration in Portland, they're destroying community businesses, destroying their windows … we don't have the resources to get there."

Orlowski shared the sentiments of many in the city.

"It makes me furious. We are all very, very angry."

Protest vandalism aftermath

Community members in the Pearl District spent Sunday, Feb. 28, cleaning up the neighborhood following the direct-action protest that swept through the area, when dozens dressed in black damaged buildings by breaking windows and tagging them with graffiti decrying racism and fascism.

It was the largest demonstration seen downtown in weeks. Social media posts indicate that the march may have been a response to immigration policy under the Biden administration, as well as police brutality and racism in the community.

Police said the group marched from The Fields Park on Northwest Overton Street at around 9 p.m. A Chipotle on Northwest Lovejoy Street had its windows smashed out at around 9:30 p.m. while customers were still inside. Other businesses caught in the damage include a Starbucks, an Urban Pantry and an Umpqua Bank.

Some fights also broke out in the street between spectators and protesters. In one video shot by an independent journalist, a woman can be heard exchanging words with someone in the group dressed in black. The woman yelled several racial slurs as the confrontation eventually escalated to physical violence with punches thrown.

Residents in the Pearl District could also be heard yelling at protesters, telling them to "go home" at some points. Protesters yelled expletives back at the residents.

Two people were arrested during the demonstration.

Jim Rice, who owns The Field Bar and Grill, boarded up his business ahead of the march.

"We knew that we were going to have a violent protest last night," Rice said. "We knew about it early in the week. We've been talking with local police, local government for support to ensure that we were going to be safe — and ultimately they didn't have the resources to deal with this group that came through."

Neighborhood frustrations

Pearl District Neighborhood Association President Stan Penkin said he is "disappointed" by the lack of communication between the community and the city on how to respond to the demonstrations, particularly when there was advanced warning that there would be destruction.

"We're doing everything we can," Perkin said. "It's certainly a frightening and frustrating time, not just for our neighborhood, but I think for the entire city."

Penkin said that while he doesn't know why the Pearl District was a target for Saturday's demonstration — other than it being the location of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services field office — he suspects it may be because the neighborhood is "erroneously" portrayed as being for the elite.

"We are often mislabeled and perhaps some of those folks feel that they can target the Pearl because of that."

Moving forward, Penkin said neighbors would like to see more communication from city leaders about what actions they are taking.

"Here in the Pearl, we follow the philosophy of government and community working together," he said. "However, I feel at this point that the communities — in not just the Pearl but in others as well — are doing more than their share."

KOIN News 6 is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.

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