Fire and gunshots: Portland police declare downtown riot
Fires, gunshots and broken glass set the beat for a riotous evening in downtown Portland on Friday, April 16.
Portland Police Bureau officers made multiple arrests, while Portland Fire & Rescue crews were kept busy extinguishing at least a half dozen separate blazes, including a major fire that engulfed the awning and boarded-up windows of the Pioneer Tower building immediately adjacent to the downtown Apple store.
Demonstrators gathered in the heart of the city for two events: a peaceful vigil that saw candle-bearing marchers briefly shutting down traffic on the Hawthorne bridge, and a separate "direct action"-style protest that gathered at Director Park.
Demetria Hester spoke to a crowd of mourners gathered at the Salmon Springs fountain ahead of the march across the water, invoking both the recent fatal police shootings of Adam Toledo in Chicago and Daunte Wright in the suburbs of Minneapolis.
"I was taught white supremacy," said Hester, a local activist. "I want to dismantle it."
Many also referred to the still murky circumstances of another fatal police shooting, this one occurring earlier in the day and much closer to home — in Lents Park in Southeast Portland. They cited social media reports describing the man who was killed as unarmed and in the midst of a mental health crisis, though sources have told The Oregonian that a replica gun was discovered at the scene.
After marching from Director Park around 9:30 p.m., the other contingent of perhaps 100 people smashed windows at multiple businesses, including John Helmer Haberdasher, First Premier Bank, a Starbucks coffee shop, Nordstrom, a Verizon shop, Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse, a Nike store and First Republic Bank; the words "no more history" were spray-painted on a spiderweb of cracking glass on the main entrance to the Oregon Historical Society museum. Fresh graffiti was visible in innumerable spots.
Police declared a riot soon after the smashing began, saying the group burglarized and looted some of the businesses. Officers decked out in riot gear arrived and made at least three arrests near Southwest Salmon Street at Fourth Avenue, but eventually withdrew. The crowd then tore down the fencing surrounding Lownsdale Square before marching north.
Several dumpsters and other trash cans were set ablaze, including one that was wheeled to block the MAX tracks along Southwest Yamhill Street at Fourth Avenue. The band dressed in black stripped wooden panels off the Apple Store fencing and fed the trash fire, while others tipped over the water-filled Jersey barricades set up as part of the defensive architecture that has guarded the Apple store since the glass palace cautiously reopened after being looted last summer.
"These cops, they should be disarmed. They're killing more people than they're saving," one onlooker told the Tribune. "I'm all for peaceful protests, I'm all for Black Lives Matter. But property damage — this is pretty reasonable — a dumpster fire."
Some in the crowd hurled metal poles used in the barricade system toward Pioneer Place mall, smashing the clerestory windows above the main-level panes that had been boarded up months ago. Glass rained down on the sidewalk as others in the crowd smashed tickets machines at a nearby parking garage and twisted its crossing guard barriers into strange pretzels.
Soon another, much larger conflagration was ignited around the corner at Pioneer Tower; a portable toilet was tipped into the flames, as were other items, and the fire burned for at least 10 minutes before riot cops cleared the intersection and firefighters put out the flames.
Police said a propane tank was located near the blaze, and the Tribune witnessed several security guards being hustled from the building and into an unmarked car as the fire was extinguished, with one guard even hopping into the trunk.
A few minutes later, someone inside a car driving south on Third Avenue fired multiple shots into the air using a handgun stuck outside the passenger side of the vehicle. Police advanced, moving the protest group onto Third Avenue as well.
Firefighters put out a blaze after police declared a riot in downtown Portland just now pic.twitter.com/M0SVfNhbcj— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) April 17, 2021
In a press release, authorities said a fourth person was booked into jail but was released after "investigators determined this was the appropriate course of action until further investigation could occur."
"Damage to businesses hurts our city. Our community has made it clear that it will not tolerate wanton violence and destruction," said Acting Police Chief Chris Davis. "No one is entitled to break windows, set fires or attack police officers. If you choose to participate in this kind of criminal activity, you can expect to be arrested and prosecuted. None of this destruction tonight has anything to do with the important work of racial justice and reconciliation our community and our nation need at this critical time in our history."
Police said they used pepper spray but no tear gas during the riot. At least one passing vehicle was damaged by a caltrop. Officers described having thin resources for other criminal calls as the wanton disorder and property violence spread throughout downtown.
"At about 10:49 p.m., there were 79 holding police calls for service in the city of Portland, including priority welfare check calls, at least three calls of shots, a priority hit and run and three burglaries," according to a news release. "Two burglaries have been holding for over 13 hours."
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