Police and federal agents fired tear gas and forcefully dispersed protesters in the US city of Portland early Saturday amid President Donald Trump’s heavily-criticised “surge” of security forces to major cities.
The escalation comes after three members of a black militia were shot in Kentucky on the same day.
Over in Portland, the biggest city in the state of Oregon, nightly protests against racism and police brutality have taken place for nearly two months, initially sparked by the death of unarmed African American George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota.
Portland is also now the scene of a highly controversial crackdown by federal agents ordered by Trump — one that is not supported by local officials, and which many said smacked of authoritarianism.
Civil unrest was not only confined to Portland — on Saturday, three members of a black militia were shot in Louisville, Kentucky, after a gun discharged at a Black Lives Matter protest, local media reported, citing police.
Their injuries were not life-threatening.
The protest, to demand justice for a black woman who was killed by police as she slept in her home, drew members of the black militia and a rival far-right militia, with the heavily armed groups facing off while separated by riot police.
The groups dispersed peacefully later Saturday afternoon.
In Portland, Friday’s demonstration was mainly peaceful, with crowds playing music and dancing, blowing soap bubbles and setting off fireworks.
But it ended — like many before it — in a showdown between protesters and police, which escalated in a haze of tear gas and flash-bang devices.
One group of protesters formed a line with umbrellas and makeshift shields to try to protect themselves, as at least two fires burned outside the fences around a federal courthouse.
Teargas was first fired around 11:00pm.
By 2:30am police and federal agents were clearing the scene outside the courthouse with tear gas, pushing protesters back.
Earlier, protesters who spoke to AFP complained of the federal agents’ presence in the city and voiced their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which helped drive demonstrations across the country for weeks after Floyd’s killing.
“I don’t like what’s happening down here, what Trump is doing,” Mike Shikany, a 55-year-old aerospace engineer, said, adding he did not “want to get anywhere near the little green men,” meaning the federal troops.
Portland retiree Jean Mullen, 74, said that without pressure nothing would change.
“It’s time to become the country we always brag about being. And we can’t brag anymore, about anything. We aren’t first in anything and it’s a terrible, terrible thing to see at the end of my life,” she said.
The inspector general of the US Justice Department on Thursday opened an official investigation into the federal crackdown, but a federal judge in Oregon on Friday rejected a legal bid by the state to stop agents from detaining protesters.
The city’s Democratic mayor Ted Wheeler has accused federal officers of triggering a dangerous escalation of the situation with abusive and unconstitutional tactics.
As he met with protesters on Wednesday, Wheeler himself was hit by tear gas, an incident he described as “flat-out urban warfare.” Trump, who is campaigning for re-election in November on “law and order,” announced on Wednesday a “surge” of federal agents to crime hot spots including Chicago, following an increase in violence in the nation’s third-largest city.
Federal agents deployed there will partner with local law enforcement, not riot control forces as seen in Portland.
Local officials have warned they would draw the line at any Portland-style deployment