Portland police officers violently expelled protesters from downtown on Saturday night, using gas, stun grenades and batons in one of the most aggressive responses yet to a crowd pressed against a fence that cordons off the Multnomah County Justice Center.

In Portland's ninth consecutive night of uprisings against police killings, hundreds of protesters followed what has become a nightly ritual: gathering around the fence, where officers stood in riot gear on the other side, for an hourslong standoff.

Except unlike other nights, police deployed "riot control agents" like smoke grenades and flash-bangs at a rapid clip after more than an hour of warnings. Then riot cops moved in large squadrons through Chapman and Lownsdale squares, making arrests and rapidly separating the crowd into smaller groups.

The actions by officers suggested an escalation in an ongoing war between the most strident protesters and riot police—one in which police have the greater arsenal but are losing political traction.

Elected officials are decrying or calling for limits on some of the weapons police can use, including tear gas. So tonight, the Portland Police Bureau both attempted to win over public sentiment—livestreaming a video of its officers being pelted with objects—and to end the standoff quickly.

It succeeded in the latter objective, at least.

A police officer uses a baton to strike a protester who had raised a skateboard. (Alex Wittwer)
A police officer uses a baton to strike a protester who had raised a skateboard. (Alex Wittwer)

Around 10 pm, the crowd outside of the Justice Center began to swell to nearly 1,000 people. Protesters threw objects, including flowers, water bottles and, at one point, hog feed, over the fence, which was erected several feet higher than on previous nights.

The bureau issued a command over the loudspeaker: "Do not throw projectiles or other items over the fence, including animal feed."

At 10:45, police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and said everyone who remained would be subject to arrest and use of force. For nearly an hour after, protesters stood idle as the police at some points repeated the command nearly every other minute, declaring the assembly unlawful. For the second night in a row, protesters formed a phalanx of umbrellas along the front line of the fence. Another throng shimmered aluminum baking sheets and tin foil toward the police, reflecting the stadium-bright lights back onto the cops.

Near 11:15, another protester gave a gas mask to a stranger; two other demonstrators handed out baggies of tear gas wipes to the crowd; another told everyone to make sure they had the number of a lawyer written on their arm, should they be arrested.

"Gas me, Teddy!" one protester chanted.

A protester wearing a gask mask puts their hand up and chants “Don’t Shoot” outside the Justice Center. (Alex Wittwer)
A protester wearing a gask mask puts their hand up and chants “Don’t Shoot” outside the Justice Center. (Alex Wittwer)

That appeared to refer to a June 6 announcement by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler that came just shy of banning tear gas at demonstrations. He told Portland Police Chief Jami Resch that officers cannot use gas unless "there is a serious and immediate threat to life safety."

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office said in a tweet after midnight that such a threat had emerged: A protester had thrown a "commercial grade firework" over the fence, injuring an officer.

As protesters lobbed more water bottles over the fence, and some began attempting to push the fence down, police gave a final warning before deploying smoke grenades and flash-bangs in quick succession. Hundreds ran north, and a large crowd began marching down Southwest 6th Avenue.

But police quickly followed, tailing any groups that formed and dispersing them with more smoke and flash-bangs in a cat-and-mouse game between officers and civilians. Some protesters carried speakers thumping with music, and others chanted familiar rallying cries like "Stay Together, Stay Tight!" and "Whose Streets? Our Streets!" as they evaded police.

One of the last remaining crowds of the night, a group of 50 or so people, were continually intercepted by police and guided out of the downtown area. (Alex Wittwer)
One of the last remaining crowds of the night, a group of 50 or so people, were continually intercepted by police and guided out of the downtown area. (Alex Wittwer)

But even as groups splintered off, they were quickly met by more officers. Within 20 minutes, most protesters were gone. Some expressed frustration about not knowing how to get home.

"Our car is the other way!" one protester shouted at another.

"But if we split off from the group, we'll get arrested!" the other replied to him.

Police announced that the entirety of downtown was closed, and pursued protesters to the edge of the Pearl District. One small group of demonstrators huddled outside Powell's City of Books.

By 1 am, the police had broken up almost all of the crowd. Police announced they had made "multiple arrests" of protesters downtown.

A larger group of demonstrators met tonight in Irving Park in Northeast Portland. That march and protest were entirely peaceful.