Activists Set Portland Police Union Hall on Fire

Many protesters see powerful police unions, like the PPA, as a key obstacle to cities holding police officers accountable for misconduct or excessive violence.

The Portland Police Association building, set on fire April 13. (Justin Yau)

For the third consecutive night, Portland activists gathered Tuesday to protest racist policing in the aftermath of an officer in Minnesota fatally shooting a Black man named Daunte Wright. For the second night in a row, Portland police declared a riot after protesters damaged a building.

But this time, protesters provided the nation with a dramatic visual: the torching of a police union hall.

At around 9:30 pm, about 100 black-clad activists marched from Kenton Park to the Portland Police Association headquarters. Since last summer, the union's building has been a regular target of police abolitionists, who seek to damage it in what they call "direct actions."

Many protesters see powerful police unions, like the PPA, as a key obstacle to cities holding police officers accountable for misconduct or excessive violence.

Another reason this location was chosen? The 26-year veteran officer who fired the fatal shot into Daunte Wright was also president of the police union in Brooklyn Center, Minn.

Within minutes of demonstrators arriving in front of the building, Portland police gave the first warning of the night at 9:55 pm, informing the crowd that blocking the street and vandalizing the building would lead to use of force. Fireworks exploded overhead as the crowd cheered, drowning out the police long range acoustic device.

By 10:03 pm, protesters had set the plywood-covered entrance of the building ablaze. Flames reached the top of the building. Portland police said in a press release that an unknown accelerant was used. Portland Fire & Rescue arrived within minutes to extinguish the flames.

Portland police officers arrived on scene via riot van at 10:07 pm and pushed the already retreating crowd northward on North Denver Avenue back toward Kenton Park. A smaller contingent of Portland officers intercepted the crowd on the corner of North Denver Avenue and Kilpatrick Street, making a single targeted arrest. Police booked a 19-year old protester in Multnomah County Detention Center on a charge of second-degree arson.

By 10:15 pm, most of the protesters had dispersed and melted into the dark side streets of the North Portland neighborhood.

In all, the direct action and subsequent dispersal at the PPA building lasted less than an hour.

The fire lasted less than 10 minutes and the union hall wasn't occupied. Yet the sight of flames shooting out the door and up the side of the building encapsulated how Portland's racial justice uprising has changed in a year.

The start of 100 nights of protests last year began with thousands of Portlanders marching across the Burnside Bridge to protest racial injustice in the United States. That night also ended in riots, with people smashing windows and starting fires. But the protests for the same goals now have shifted to much smaller numbers of abolitionist and anti-fascist demonstrators targeting police buildings in much faster actions.

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