United States Attorney Statement Regarding Ongoing Violence In Portland

PORTLAND, Ore.— Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, provides the below statement on ongoing violence in Portland:

“This nation’s most successful movement for racial equality and justice was led by a man dedicated to non-violent principles. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in nonviolence, winning his opponents’ friendship and understanding without humiliation, and he held a deep faith in the future. His aspirations for racial justice unquestionably remain unfinished, but his philosophy on how to achieve it remains just as relevant today.

George Floyd’s death has forced law enforcement and the justice system to closely examine our work and has led our society to ask critical questions. For more than 100 consecutive nights, Portland has been the center of large demonstrations and protests. Peaceful protests, public dialogue, and ongoing legislative and policy reviews at every level are essential to identifying solutions and bringing about meaningful and positive changes. Civility and respect are key elements to this process.

By contrast, there has been nothing civil, respectful, or positive about the nightly violent and destructive protests in Portland, Oregon. On many nights, after peaceful demonstrations end, violent agitators have physically attacked police officers and firefighters, damaged buildings, and repeatedly attempted to set public buildings on fire. These agitators include not just local residents but people who have travelled from out of state. 

On several occasions in August, demonstrations were held during the day where groups with opposing ideologies clashed and engaged in physical violence against one another. Following one of these political rallies, a man was shot and killed. Most recently, acts of violence towards law enforcement and first responders include a Portland firefighter being shot in the chest with a steel ball bearing launched from an arm-mounted slingshot, a man dousing several police officers with high-powered bear deterrent spray, a man punching a female police officer in the face, and a woman striking a police officer in the head from behind with a wooden shield.

This violent and senseless criminal conduct does nothing to promote meaningful or positive change. It forces the focus away from racial justice, instills fear in our community, and deters visitors. It is destroying the fabric of a city and a state that we love.

As a direct consequence of this criminal behavior and the media attention it generates, this community must now deal with the threat of even more outsiders traveling to Portland to participate in what they’ve been watching on social media and television for weeks. This too is not a new phenomenon for Portlanders. In August 2019, after a summer of violent clashes between opposing protest groups, several groups put out national calls for supporters to travel to Portland to join in a citywide melee.

Fortunately, despite hundreds of people answering this call and traveling to Portland, the outstanding work of the Portland Police Bureau and other local law enforcement agencies kept opposing groups mostly separated and violence to a minimum. The city now faces a similar scenario for Saturday, September 26th where numerous groups with opposing ideologies are gathering in the Portland area

This comes at a time when our community and state continue to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a major uptick in gun violence, and, now, massive wildfires burning across the state. Already limited public safety resources are fatigued and stretched thin. Our community deserves an end to the violence. Together, we need to call out violent agitators on the right and the left and stand up for civility.

Local residents and anyone traveling to Portland with the intent to commit violence are on notice. There will be consequences for acts of violence. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting people who impede or assault law enforcement officers, damage federal property, and set fire to buildings. Make no mistake: those who commit violence in the name of protest, will be investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and face prison time. Already more than 100 people have been arrested and more than 80 people are facing federal charges related to protest violence.

Our office will work closely with our law enforcement partners, including the FBI, to monitor criminal activity, and will bring federal charges where appropriate. We are committed to supporting our community and will help our law enforcement partners perform their essential public safety duties.”