Portland police clear parks ahead of federal forces pullout

© Agence France-Presse

Demonstrators confront law enforcement during a protest against racial injustice, police brutality and the deployment of federal troops to US cities on July 29, 2020 in Portland, Oregon

Portland (AFP) - Police in Portland cleared parks and nearby roads around the city's center in anticipation of a phased pullout by federal forces who have inflamed anti-racism protests in the city.

Dozens of officers encircled Chapman Square Park and Lownsdale Square Park on Thursday, ordering everyone in the vicinity to leave immediately.

Some 50 people gathered nearby chanting "Murderers" and "Quit your jobs." Others carried signs that read "This is not a riot, it's a revolution," and "We won't let the police stop us." 

"We want change, we want something to happen," said Emily, 35, adding that the federal forces' withdrawal will not alter the resolve of protesters.

"They are just replacing the feds with police," she added. "I don't expect tonight to be any different."

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the police deployment was part of the agreement for federal officers to leave the city, the largest in the western state of Oregon.

The police would work with the city's parks and recreation department, the sheriff's office and outreach workers, Wheeler said in a tweet.

"This is at the request of @ORStatePolice as part of the plan for federal officers to leave our community."

President Donald Trump's administration earlier this month sent federal tactical teams, many wearing combat-like gear, to intervene in Portland after weeks of protests against racism and police brutality saw windows broken and graffiti scrawled on the federal courthouse and other buildings.

But their deployment inflamed the situation, especially following footage of protesters being snatched off the street by federal agents and put into unmarked cars.

'Political grandstanding'

Governor Kate Brown for her part lashed out at Trump.

"I think we've had enough political grandstanding from DC," Brown tweeted. "The President's plan to 'dominate' the streets of American cities has failed.

"And today, federal troops are preparing to leave downtown Portland. We will protect free speech and the right to protest peacefully," she added. "The massive and non-violent protests led by Black Lives Matter activists have inspired the nation.

"Let's get to work and make this vision a reality."

Under the Wednesday agreement between Oregon officials and the Trump administration, the federal forces were to begin withdrawing from the city on Thursday.

However, their pullout was conditional on local law enforcement ensuring the security of the federal courthouse and other buildings that have been targeted by protesters.

Trump on Thursday doubled down on the need for federal intervention.

"The governor and the mayor, we've been dealing with them, and we think they don't know what they're doing, because this should not have been going on for 60 days," he told reporters. 

"It's not our job to go in and clean out the cities. That's supposed to be done by local law enforcement," Trump added.

More than 1,000 people were still on the streets of downtown Portland on Thursday evening, without any federal law enforcement in sight. 

Protests against racism and police brutality, both in the city and across much of the United States, began two months ago after the killing of African American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.