Black Leaders Decry Vandalism, Fires Along Portland’s Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

“Do not do this and think you are doing black people a favor.”

A rioter on May 30, 2020. (Wesley Lapointe)

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell spoke this afternoon at the corner of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Killingsworth Street about the attack last night on the Portland Police Bureau's nearby North Precinct and a number of adjacent businesses, which officials say are owned by people of color.

Related: Hundreds of Protesters Barricade the Portland Police Bureau's North Precinct in Hostile Standoff

Wheeler said that when protesters nailed and barricaded doors shut and set the North Precinct on fire with people inside the building, they moved from the realm of legitimate protest to reckless criminality.

"Last night was about arson, destruction and endangering lives," Wheeler said.

Lovell, who earlier this month became the bureau's fourth Black chief, called the protesters' actions "evil."

The police description of what happened last night along Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was complicated by firsthand reports. While city officials described a focused attempt to destroy the precinct and harm those inside, two reporters told WW that some protesters set a fire and others tried to put it out, until police munitions drove them away.

A Police Bureau representative tells WW that officers did not deem the threat sufficient to evacuate the building.

Still, the direct attack on a police building and Black-owned businesses rankled several of the city's longtime civil rights leaders.

The leaders spoke in even stronger terms of protesters—some of them white—who were ostensibly acting in the interest of racial justice and against police brutality.

"We have got to call terrorism 'terrorism,'" said the Rev. Steven Holt, senior pastor at the Kingdom Nation Church.

Tony Hopson, co-founder and CEO of Self Enhancement Inc., a nonprofit that works primarily with Black youth, said the violence was "a distraction," and detrimental to the national movement for racial justice catalyzed by George Floyd's May 25 death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

"It's against Black Lives Matter," Hopson said.

Ron Herndon, who has led reform movements against police brutality, inferior schools and other forms of discrimination against Black Portlanders since the 1970s, spoke from the perspective of decades on the front lines.

"When I hear about something being burned down, that is an act that has always been used against Black people," Herndon said. "They burnt down our businesses, our churches and our schools. That is a tactic that has been used to destroy Black people, not help Black people."

His remarks this afternoon, coordinated with City Hall, made plain a disagreement about tactics in the uprising against police violence.

Herndon said there's no question that police reform is necessary, as is school reform and the reform of financial institutions that discriminate, but burning any structure brings no racial justice.

"Do not do this," Herndon said, "and think you are doing Black people a favor."

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