Portland witnessed another night of extraordinary sights Sunday.
Thousands of people marched across the Burnside Bridge into a vivid pink sunset and a line of police waiting for them. Long after a citywide curfew, that crowd stood for hours in a standoff with police in which neither side would blink. For a time, it looked as though the city would avoid the chaos that marked the first two nights of protesting the killing of George Floyd.
Yet the night ended in a fashion that has now become dispiritingly familiar: Police deployed stun grenades and gas, and angry protesters responded with vandalism in downtown.
That harsh ending was something that protesters had repeatedly tried to avoid. For the duration of the night, they repeatedly called on fellow demonstrators to act peacefully and not provoke the police.
"It's not just about George Floyd. It's not just about Sandra Bland. It's about the fact that we know this country was built on slavery and on the backs of black and brown people," event organizer Lilith Sinclair said into a megaphone. "The last time I checked, property doesn't have nerves. Glass doesn't have feelings. Property doesn't bleed like black and brown people."
As demonstrators headed west across the Burnside Bridge around 9 pm—an hour past curfew—protesters who had been on the westside warned of rubber bullets and tear gas awaiting at the other end of the bridge. The group paused, then reiterated chants of "Stay together, stay tight!" and "Whose streets? Our streets!" as it proceeded toward downtown.
Once across the bridge, demonstrators continued to march until they reached the Multnomah County Justice Center, which two days earlier was broken into and set on fire by demonstrators. Police dressed in full riot gear stood guard at the boarded-up building as protesters gathered around the chain-link fence surrounding the Justice Center.
Over the loudspeaker shortly after 9 pm, the police announced they would not be enforcing curfew: "The city of Portland wants to protect your First Amendment rights," an officer said into the loudspeaker. "The behavior of this group will set the tone for this evening."
It wasn't clear why the Portland Police Bureau shifted its tactics despite the mayor's curfew. But the demonstrators, too, repeatedly called for peace. "Until they fuck with us, be peaceful," one of the event organizers said into a megaphone. "Let your voice be heard."
As the crowd size swelled around the Justice Center, demonstrators repeatedly chanted, "Arms up, don't shoot!" "Peaceful protest," and "I don't see no riot here, take off your riot gear," at police.
At one point, as hundreds of protesters knelt on the ground, a police officer walked down the front steps of the Justice Center up to the chain-link fence, where he had a conversation with an event organizer. Their words were inaudible, but some members of the crowd cheered at what appeared to be a productive dialogue between the two parties.
But as the night drew on, police employed increasingly aggressive tactics. In part, that decision appeared to result from vandalism of the nearby Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse. Whatever the reason, the police tactics shifted.
Freelance journalist Sergio Olmos tweeted that, close to midnight, police demanded protesters move west, and then lobbed flash-bangs and tear gas at the crowd. The crowd largely dispersed, and people on the scene reported that police told them to go home as they threw more tear gas at the crowd.
As protesters fled, some people smashed in store windows across downtown, and others set bonfires in the streets. The federal courthouse was covered in graffiti, much of it expressing anti-police sentiment.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has scheduled a press conference for Monday at 8 am to discuss the Sunday night demonstrations.