by Gillian Flaccus
PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — People arrested in Portland since late May on non-violent misdemeanor charges during the protests that have racked Oregon’s largest city for more than two months won’t be prosecuted.
The new policy announced Tuesday recognizes the outrage and frustration over a history of racial injustice that has led to the city’s often violent protests and the practical realities of the court system, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said. It is running more than two months behind in processing cases because of COVID-19.
As a result, at least several hundred people arrested over the past few months will not face criminal prosecution, according to statistics provided by Schmidt’s office. The same no prosecution policy applies to those arrested on similar charges in future demonstrations, he said.
“The protesters are angry … and deeply frustrated with what they perceive to be structural inequities in our basic social fabric. And this frustration can escalate to levels that violate the law,” Schmidt said.
He added: “This policy acknowledges that centuries of disparate treatment of our black and brown communities have left deep wounds and that the healing process will not be easy or quick.”
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, informed of the impending policy change last week, said the decision does not change Oregon law and still holds accountable people who commit violent acts or intentionally damage property.
“Committing a crime is different from demonstrating,” Lovell said in a statement. “The arrests we make often come after hours of damage to private property, disruption of public transit and traffic on public streets, thefts from small businesses, arson, burglary, attacks on members of the community, and attacks against police officers.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the Police Commissioner, did not respond to a request for comment.
The city’s protests have dominated local news and made international headlines for more than 70 days since the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly eight minutes. Consecutive nights of unrest last month that increasingly targeted a federal courthouse in Portland prompted President Donald Trump to dispatch U.S. agents to guard the building.
The presence of the agents from U.S Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service was aimed at quelling the demonstrations but instead reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement.
The U.S. agents began drawing down July 31 under an agreement between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Democratic Gov. Kate Brown for Oregon state troopers to guard the courthouse.
But the protests continued nightly at locations miles from the courthouse, with demonstrators calling for the City Council to defund local police and reinvest the money in the Black community.
Police precincts in the north and east of the city, the police union headquarters and a building that houses police offices have been frequent targets. Officers made dozens of arrests last weekend and this week after clashes with demonstrators who police have said threw eggs, bottles and rocks at officers; started fires and punctured the tires of police vehicles.
Tuesday night, one group blocked traffic downtown in a peaceful gathering that authorities did not interact with, Portland police said in a statement.
A person in another demonstrating group that blocked traffic for hours near the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office building fell off the back of a pickup truck, the statement said.
Authorities brought in an ambulance to take the person to a hospital. Police threatened to arrest some protesters after they went on the property of the sheriff’s office building, but they left, the statement said.
No arrests were made and no crowd control methods were used, the police statement said.
– – –
Gillian Flaccus is a reporter for The Associated Press.
About the Headline Photo: Demetria Hester, center, speaks to the media after being released from the Multnomah County Justice Center on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Portland, Ore. Hester became a leading activist in the racial justice movement after she was assaulted by a white supremacist three years ago. Authorities said Hester won’t be charged following her arrest early Monday. Hester had been booked on suspicion of disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer during the protest that began Sunday night. Hester’s arrest drew a sharp rebuke from national Black Lives Matter activists, who are increasingly focusing on demonstrations in Oregon’s largest city. (Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian via AP)