Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that the federal officers brought in to quell anti-racism protests in Portland will leave the city beginning Thursday after weeks of violent clashes with demonstrators.
“These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community,” Brown said in a statement.
The governor said a “phased” withdrawal agreement came out of talks with Vice President Mike Pence and other officials this week.
Crowds advocating against racism and police brutality have been showing up daily around a federal courthouse building in Portland since the death of George Floyd, the Black Minnesota man who was killed by a white police officer in late May. Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Chad Wolf has repeatedly said the federal officers were needed to protect federal property from damage.
Before they go, the federal officers “will also clean up the Courthouse, removing the graffiti,” Brown said.
In exchange, Oregon State Police will ramp up security for the exterior of the building, while a small number of federal officers will patrol the interior, as they typically do year-round.
Local officials have been outspoken about their opposition to the federal officers’ presence, arguing that they had made the situation worse. Since the beginning, protesters opposed the use of force and tear gas by local police.
“We need to recognize that the protests in Portland are not solely about the federal presence,” Brown said.
“If slavery is America’s original sin, then anti-Blackness is Oregon’s,” she said in the conclusion of her statement. “Even before it was recognized as a state, Oregon prevented African Americans from settling here and owning property. For far too long, Oregon’s constitution ingrained discrimination into state law.”
The federal officers’ use of tear gas and dangerous projectiles injured multiple protesters, including one who was standing opposite a row of officers holding a speaker above his head earlier this month. One then shot him in the head with an impact munition, fracturing his skull. The officers also sparked outrage when video emerged showing groups of them patrolling streets in unmarked vans, failing to identify themselves as they detained protesters and drove away.
In recent days, a group of mothers in yellow T-shirts began gathering to attempt to protect the younger protesters, earning the nickname “wall of moms.” Another group, “leaf blower dads,” began showing up with cordless leaf blowers, which proved to be very effective at blocking tear gas and sending it back in the direction of the federal officers.
Last week, video of a Navy veteran enduring a beating from the officers went viral; the man, 53-year-old Christopher David, said he was inspired to join the protests after seeing officers in unmarked vehicles make arrests. He was also pepper sprayed in the face.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler made headlines on July 23 for being in a crowd of demonstrators that was tear-gassed by federal agents. The mayor, who is also the city’s police commissioner, has been intensely criticized by protesters for not doing more to rein in local police.
Wheeler said the city council will consider measures to “fundamentally reimagine police accountability” on Wednesday.