A peaceful vigil in North Portland turned destructive late Friday night.

A crowd of more than 1,000 people, joining a national reaction to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, gathered outside the Multnomah County Justice Center. Some of the protesters broke in the street-level windows, entered the normally secure lobby and set a fire inside before police deployed flash-bang grenades and other large munitions.

The vigil for Floyd began in Peninsula Park at 6 pm, then became a march into downtown along Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The crowd grew in size as it marched south.

Mariah Taylor prays for her late son at a vigil for George Floyd in Peninsula Park on May 29, 2020. (Alex Wittwer)
Mariah Taylor prays for her late son at a vigil for George Floyd in Peninsula Park on May 29, 2020. (Alex Wittwer)

The march, part of a national outpouring of sorrow and rage at the death of Floyd beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, was ethnically diverse but mostly young. The protesters marched past storefronts that have been shuttered for months by Gov. Kate Brown's executive orders. A few people shattered shop windows, including at the Northeast Portland outlet of Nike.

Around 9:30 pm, the crowd crossed the Burnside Bridge into downtown. It stretched four city blocks and gathered at the Justice Center. Protesters spray-painted surrounding buildings with graffiti reading "Say His Name" and "ACAB"—an abbreviation for "All cops are bastards."

At about 11 pm, a WW photographer watched protesters smash in the Justice Center windows and set a fire in the lobby. Video of that vandalism is here.

At about 11:10 pm, riot police moved in from the north and south of the building, surrounding protesters. "This is an unlawful assembly," police said over a loudspeaker. "Move to the north."

Many protesters then broke into a dead run west.

Protesters broke into the justice building and set fire to the offices.(Alex Wittwer)
Protesters broke into the justice building and set fire to the offices.(Alex Wittwer)

Minutes later, three loud explosions were heard in the downtown streets. A Portland Fire & Rescue crew arrived to extinguish the fire protesters ignited in the Justice Center.

Protesters told a reporter police might have also shot rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

As the crowd ran from the Justice Center, some smashed windows at nearby stores. Journalist Sergio Olmos posted video of some protesters looting the Louis Vuitton store at Pioneer Place.

Riots erupted across the United States tonight in the wake of Floyd's death. But Portland police seemed surprised by the intensity and size of tonight's protest.

Earlier this afternoon, Portland Police Bureau spokeswoman Lt. Tina Jones told WW she was not aware of any large-scale or disruptive protest planned.

But downtown business owners were preparing anyway. At 1:51 pm, property management company JLL sent an email to tenants at Pioneer Tower, warning of possible property destruction.

"JLL has been made aware of possible protests and riots taking place this weekend in downtown Portland," an assistant general manager wrote. "In an effort to protect our tenants and the building, we will be locking the front doors starting at 6 pm this evening. They will be open again at 7 am Monday morning."