Unrest Continues in Portland as a Year of Political Turmoil Across Oregon Comes to an End

Citywide vandalism and statewide COVID-19 defiance are defining phenomena of 2020.

Vandalism in downtown Portland in November 2020. (Chris Nesseth)

As tumultuous year comes to an end, civil unrest and radicalization show little sign of subsiding in Oregon.

On Dec. 30, a group of about 40 people marched out of Director Park in downtown Portland, police say. The Portland Police Bureau says the group spray-painted and smashed windows at 11 properties, including the Oregon Historical Society, Portland City Hall, the Portland Police Bureau Central Precinct, the First Republic Bank, Fogo de Chão steakhouse and a Starbucks.

Such vandalism has become a common occurrence in Portland's downtown in 2020. Property destruction, which often occurred after police tear-gassed large crowds at racial justice protests this summer, has continued long after most other protest activity dwindled this winter.

Separately, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office on Thursday charged 46-year-old John Higginbotham with burglary, criminal mischief, criminal trespass and possession of a burglary tool or theft device for allegedly breaking into an Oregon Department of Transportation building on Dec. 30 using a blow torch and a pair of bolt cutters. It was not clear from a probable cause affidavit whether the vandalism was politically motivated.

Outside of Portland, defiance of the government looks different. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday condemned conservative mayors and other public officials in rural Oregon who encouraged constituents to openly defy the state's COVID-19 restrictions on Jan. 1.

"Let me be clear," Brown said Dec. 31. "Local elected officials do not have the authority under Oregon law to disregard my emergency orders or to authorize anyone else to do so. Any businesses that reopen in violation of state risk-level requirements for their county will be subject to fines and enforcement."

Protests of the governor's pandemic orders are expected to take place New Year's Day in Salem, while in some small towns, elected officials say they'll no longer enforce any rules that keep businesses closed because of the virus.

The Portland vandalism and rural defiance of COVID-19 restrictions are different phenomena that span the political spectrum, but both show the extent to which peaceful consensus has evaporated in Oregon in a year when mass gatherings were mostly relegated to protests.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.