Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler addresses fires lit at police bureau’s East Precinct during a press conference on Aug. 6.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler says the fires set at the threshold of the city’s most easterly police station were intended to cause serious injury or death – “and it very well could have.”
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Mayor Wheeler, Police Chief Chuck Lovell and other officials addressed the latest incident in roughly 70 nights of continuous demonstrations during a virtual press conference on Thursday, Aug. 6.
A crowd of perhaps two or three hundred gathered at Floyd Light Park on Wednesday, Aug. 5, before marching several short blocks to the city’s East Precinct, 737 S.E. 106th Ave., after dark. Less than seven minutes after they arrived, officials say boards were pried off the precinct’s locked front doors – some jammed between the door handles and others set alight, while cars were allegedly used to block another egress point.
Police then declared a riot, used tear gas and charged forward, pushing the crowd back for hours.
“When you commit arson with an accelerant, in an attempt to burn down a building that is occupied by people that you have intentionally trapped inside, you are not demonstrating,” Wheeler said. “You are attempting to commit murder.”
The bureau’s on-duty incident commander that night, Capt. Tony Passadore, said about 20 officers and several civilian employees were trapped inside the building. The East Precinct has a roll-up door allowing access for vehicles, as well as a side door beyond the front door where videos captured by the Tribune’s news partner, KOIN 6 News, show a small blaze was set that did not appear to spread beyond the glass door to nearby brick walls.
Protesters also used laser pointers and spray-painted several surveillance cameras.
Fire by the door.
Fire by the door. pic.twitter.com/6GQuzlEvpV
— Hannah Ray Lambert (@TheHannahRay) August 6, 2020
– Hannah Ray Lambert (@TheHannahRay) August 6, 2020
“Should a fire get started in that building, there are very few avenues for people to escape,” Chief Lovell said.
“If that building burns, so do the townhomes connected to it,” said Capt. Passadore, his voice tinged with emotion.
The officials said they expect more protests centered on the city’s three precinct buildings this weekend. The Youth Liberation Front, which advocates for the total abolishment of police and prisons, announced a “round two” protest for the East Precinct Thursday night.
“If Chief of Police Chuck Lovell wants to find a group committing acts of violence and destruction in Portland that put everyone at risk, we suggest that he get off of our Twitter feed and go find a mirror,” the group said on social media late last month.
Portland Fire Lt. Damon Simmons condemned the actions of fire-starters, saying he had once carried the corpse of a young woman trapped by an arsonist away from a Portland home.
“I fully support the Black Lives Matter movement, I support social justice,” Simmons said. “The bottom line is, this is not the way to get there.”
Authorities say a coinciding downtown peaceful protest did not require the presence of any officers on Wednesday night. In contrast, last night’s protest and a Tuesday night gathering at the police union building on Lombard Street both ended in riots cleared by tear gas.
In an aside, the mayor noted that none of the officers once assigned to the now disbanded Gun Violence Reduction Team were laid off, saying he believes some aspects of the GVRT must be retained.
Wheeler ended the thirty-minute conference with a political point, acknowledging that is not typical.
“You are creating the b-roll film that will be used in ads nationally to help Donald Trump,” he said. “You don’t want to be a part of that, then don’t show up.”
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