Acrid tear gas choked the air, the beating of helicopter blades throbbed overhead — and so much broken glass littered the sidewalks that it simply became background scenery.
Perhaps the most destructive protest in downtown Portland's history broke out after a peaceful daytime rally honoring the death of George Floyd — the black man killed earlier this week by a white Minneapolis police officer as other officers watched — devolved in an unprecedented fashion.
Police deployed smoky tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets and first declared an unlawful assembly and later a riot as protesters remained in the city's central core past 2 a.m.
The city awoke to a rare and dramatic thunderstorm, along with destroyed stores and public facilities in the downtown core.
In an interview with KOIN 6 News, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty condemned the riot, saying the destruction of property has nothing to do with supporting black people.
"Destroying the city, and for what?" Hardesty said.
Widespread looting was visible at Pioneer Place mall, at Oregon's flagship Apple store, a Louis Vuitton outlet, a Starbucks, an H&M clothing store and at Capital One, Chase and Wells Fargo banks. Other buildings caught up in the crowd's rage included the Oregon State University store, a Target store, Kassal's Jewelry, the Multnomah County courthouse, and doubtless many others.
Demonstrators used bats, traffic cones, skateboards and more than a few e-scooters to bust open windows and doors — creating sporadic outbursts of disorder that ebbed and flowed like a tide of violence.
While the downtown may have seemed like a warzone, for some merchants, life went on. A 7-Eleven clerk did a brisk business with groups of masked protesters dressed all in black. Food carts continued to sell their wares, with some clients asking for milk to tend to their gassed faces.
Apple store in Portland being looted during protest pic.twitter.com/GqmGCOqRkt— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) May 30, 2020
In another climatic moment, demonstrators smashed windows and set fire to the atrium of the Justice Center during a stunning show of force. Police retook the lobby of the building — which serves as the Portland Police Bureau's headquarters and as the downtown lock-up for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office — and began to fire projectiles into the crowd.
Flares and other incendiary devices were thrown into a ground-level office while Corrections Records staff were working inside, according to a press release from the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. Staff evacuated to a secure location within the Justice Center. The building's fire sprinkler system was activated and doused the fires, but caused extensive water damage.
"I am incredibly disappointed in Friday night's actions that put staff, adults in custody and the public in extreme risk," Sheriff Mike Reese said. "This could have had tragic consequences in a corrections setting."
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is set to hold a press conference at 8 a.m. Saturday at Portland City Hall, along with Mayor Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Portland Police Bureau Deputy Chief Chris Davis, Portland Fire and Rescue Chief Sara Boone and Sheriff Reese.
Graffiti and vandalism were reported throughout the night in other areas of the city as well. A column marched down Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard earlier in the night, leaving a trail of shattered glass in their wake on the other side of the Willamette River. The Nike store on that street appeared to take the brunt of the damage.
The march turned violent as night fell following a largely peaceful rally held following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota four days ago. A local officer in Minneapolis, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with Floyd's murder after a viral video showed him pressing his knee on Floyd's neck.
Demonstrators first gathered at Peninsula Park around 6 p.m. Friday, May 29.
Protests have spread across nation since Floyd's death. On Thursday night, a small number of protesters camped out on the steps of the Justice Center and spray-painted Floyd's name on several pillars and a nearby fountain. One man was arrested during the Thursday, May 28 action; police said at least have been charged with riot on Friday. Damage estimates — still unknown at this point — are sure to be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands.
Looting also broke out during a protest in Eugene.
Breaking: Fire in intersection of 7th and Washing in Downtown Eugene. Around 100 people gather shouting â€œGeorge Floyd.â€ pic.twitter.com/q3cMI1y59s— Donald Morrison (@DonnyMorrison26) May 30, 2020
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a message condemning the violence.
"Portland, this is NOT us. When you destroy our city, you are destroying our community," he said. "When you act in violence against each other, you are hurting all of us. How does this honor the legacy of George Floyd? Protest, speak truth, but don't tear your city apart in the process."
ENOUGH.— Mayor Ted Wheeler (@tedwheeler) May 30, 2020
I had to leave Portland today because my mother is dying. I am with family to prepare for her final moments. This is hard, this is personal, but so is watching my city get destroyed.
Iâ€™m coming back NOW. You will be hearing from me, @PortlandPolice, community leaders.
Police said three shootings are connected to the protests, including in the Pearl District at the 700 block of Northwest Flanders Street around 8:21 p.m., another in Farragut Park and a third in an unspecified location.
The full extent of the shooting victims' injuries is not yet known.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of Pamplin Media Group.
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