Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
The sound of electric drills and pressure washers filled the empty blocks of downtown Portland on Saturday morning.
Workers boarded up newly shattered storefronts. They hauled charred debris into dumpsters. They scrubbed spray-painted messages that decried a recent string of fatal police shootings and called for the abolishment of police.
The night before, a large demonstration erupted into a riot, the city’s third in five days and among the most destructive in a year of almost continuous political unrest.
In addition to the ubiquitous broken windows, graffiti and dumpster fires, a building was significantly burned. Some protesters trashed a park that’s under renovation. Others damaged cultural institutions and a church that aids the area’s most vulnerable.
“I certainly understand the rage, the frustration,” said David Dickson, who lives downtown. “But we have to find a better way.”
The damage came on the heels of a fatal police shooting Friday in Southeast Portland but was carried out as part of a previously scheduled “autonomous demonstration” in the name of people killed in recent police shootings nationwide, including Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old killed last month by Chicago police.
Portland officers made only four arrests during the melee that unfolded over the course of several hours and spanned more than a dozen blocks.
Protesters began by marching from Director Park through downtown, with some smashing glass storefronts at locations including the Nike store near Pioneer Courthouse Square, a Verizon business and a bank.
Demonstrators also targeted local businesses. Among them: John Helmer Haberdashery, a clothing and hat store that first opened in Portland a century ago.
“All the destruction is pretty gnarly,” one man said as he covered a shattered windowpane at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse, with a slab of plywood.
“We had taken the boards down back in November,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “But I guess that was too soon.”
Police declared a riot about 9:50 p.m. Friday, telling a crowd of at least 100 people to disperse. Demonstrators soon after moved toward the area near the Multnomah County Justice Center and adjacent federal courthouse.
Some protesters dismantled pedestrian traffic signals at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Salmon Street shortly before 11 p.m. and threw them into the intersection. A bonfire was lit at the intersection, and a dumpster fire was set nearby.
Others ripped down fencing that had been erected around the perimeter of nearby Lownsdale Square, which is under renovation, and vandalized a monument in the center of the park that commemorates soldiers of the Spanish-American War.
Shortly before midnight, protesters overturned plastic barriers filled with water outside the Apple store. The water doused the street around the dumpster fire.
Some in the group appeared to try to break into Pioneer Place. And some protesters lit portable toilets ablaze near the Apple store, which is connected to Pioneer Tower.
Flames traveled several stories up the tower, causing significant damage, and firefighters extinguished the blaze.
“This is probably the most damage that I’ve seen to a building in the downtown area” during a protest, said Robert Garrison, a Portland Fire & Rescue arson investigator.
Standing atop the blackened remains of the portable toilets, Garrison said contractors who arrived to survey the building’s damage Saturday morning said it would be at least $200,000.
As the arson investigator spoke, cleanup crews filled a dumpster with still smoldering debris.
During the evening, protesters also targeted multiple cultural and faith institutions along the city’s Park Blocks.
Some scrawled anti-police messages on the exterior of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Others broke windows at the Oregon Historical Society, whose entrance was previously shattered by protesters who had declared an “Indigenous Day of Rage” in October.
Members of the group also smashed out the front windows to the nearby First Christian Church, which provides meals and showers to people experiencing homelessness and has long welcomed those who identify as LGBTQ.
Rev. Cynthia McBride said the destruction would impose a financial strain on the church’s social service programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is a sad day for the congregation, for members who love this place as a holy refuge and ‘home-base’ for significant service in our community,” McBride, the church’s pastor, told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
“The congregation is committed to racial equity and social justice and will continue to stand with those whose lives have been as shattered and broken as our building’s windows are now.”
Dickson, the downtown resident, said he was at a total loss.
“These are the people feeding the unhoused and telling the story of racial injustice in Oregon,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
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