Portland Rioter Hurls Molotov Cocktail Into Police Ranks as a City and Nation Seethe Over Breonna Taylor

“Breonna didn’t get it, shut it down!” protesters chanted—meaning Taylor didn’t receive justice and the whole criminal justice system needs to be changed.

A protester in downtown Portland on Sept. 23. (Chris Nesseth)

A rioter threw a Molotov cocktail into a group of police officers, police deployed tear gas and made mass arrests, and civil unrest roiled downtown Portland on Wednesday night, hours after a Kentucky grand jury decided not to charge police who killed Breonna Taylor.

What started as a peaceful demonstration, where a few hundred protesters reflected on Taylor's death and urged everyone to vote, quickly turned chaotic around 10 pm when the Portland Police Bureau declared a riot. Police said protesters were throwing rocks at the bureau's Central Precinct, endangering officers inside. Around 10:30 pm, a protester set fire to the plywood that boarded up the building's windows. (The fire quickly went out on its own.)

What ensued was a familiar sight to a city that has protested racial injustice and police brutality for over 100 days: Police officers clad in riot gear and wielding batons rushed through downtown streets, arresting those who disobeyed orders to disperse. Officers and protesters clashed for hours in smoke and fire.

As a small battalion of officers marched through downtown to make arrests, someone in the crowd of protesters threw a Molotov cocktail into the ranks of riot police. It exploded in a fireball on the pavement and caught one officer's foot on fire.

That battalion of officers chased the protester who threw the petrol bomb, and others, through the streets of downtown Portland.

The lobbing of the Molotov cocktail marked an escalation in clashes between police and protesters. Protesters threw petrol bombs toward police lines earlier this month, but Wednesday marked the first time such a weapon landed amid officers.

The rest of the night followed a pattern: Police officers chased protesters throughout downtown, pushing them down streets with tear gas and pepper balls while protesters threw tear gas canisters back at them and shielded themselves with umbrellas. Repeatedly, the two sides would stand off at an intersection until officers rushed through the streets to arrest protesters who did not disperse.

"You're proving our point!" a protester yelled at a police officer who tackled another protester to the ground.

Before the violence and mass arrests, the demonstration started at Chapman Square in downtown Portland where protesters chanted "No justice, no peace!" and "Say her name: Breonna Taylor!" to the beat of a drum line.

Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical worker, was killed in her Louisville, Ky., home by police officers executing a "no-knock warrant" in search of drugs. No drugs were found. On Wednesday morning, a Kentucky grand jury decided the three officers involved in her death would not be charged for killing her. One officer was charged with wanton endangerment for shooting into apartments near Taylor's.

The decision sparked protests throughout the country, as Taylor has become an icon of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In Portland, which has experienced some of the most intense civil unrest in the nation, protesters said the verdict confirmed their worst suspicions about American injustice.

"We saw it coming," said Dre Miller, 37, of the grand jury's decision. "I thought it was a slap to the face to her family and to all of us who have been protesting."

Miller said he's been protesting for months because he has children and he "doesn't want them to live in a world where they have to deal with systemic racism."

"It's not just Breonna Taylor," he added. "It's George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin. We're fed up."

Others took the verdict in Taylor's case personally too, including Erica Carapia, who said she "is Breonna Taylor."

"I am her. We're both Black and we're both women," Carapia, 25, said. "What happened to her could happen to me, and I want to fight for her as much as I can."

"Breonna didn't get it, shut it down!" protesters chanted—meaning Taylor didn't receive justice and the whole criminal justice system needs to be changed, a call activists throughout the country have repeated.

And that's what Patrick Kindred thinks, too, saying Taylor did all the right things, but she was still killed by the police.

"You can be a good citizen and still [be] shot and killed," Kindred, 28, said. "She did what she needed to do and got gunned down for no reason."

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