People who have been arrested since late May on non-violent misdemeanor charges during protests taking place in Oregon’s largest city for more than 70 days will not be prosecuted.
The new policy announced on Tuesday recognizes the outrage and frustration over a history of racial injustice that has led to sustained, often violent protest in Portland as well as the more practical realities of the court system, which is running more than two months behind in processing cases because of Covid-19, the Multnomah county district attorney, Mike Schmidt, said.
At least several hundred people who have been arrested in the past few months will not face criminal prosecution, according to statistics provided by Schmidt’s office. People arrested on similar charges in future demonstrations will also not be prosecuted, he said.
“The protesters are angry … and deeply frustrated with what they perceive to be structural inequities in our basic social fabric. And this frustration can escalate to levels that violate the law,” Schmidt said. “This policy acknowledges that centuries of disparate treatment of our black and brown communities have left deep wounds and that the healing process will not be easy or quick.”
Portland’s police chief, Chuck Lovell, who was told of the policy change on Friday, said it did not change Oregon law and still held accountable people who commit violent acts or intentionally damage property.
“Committing a crime is different from demonstrating,” Lovell said in a statement. “The arrests we make often come after hours of damage to private property, disruption of public transit and traffic on public streets, thefts from small businesses, arson, burglary, attacks on members of the community, and attacks against police officers.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, did not return a request for comment.
Protests have dominated the news in Portland for more than 70 days since the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly eight minutes.
Nights of unrest that increasingly targeted a federal courthouse prompted Donald Trump to dispatch US agents to guard the building in July.
The presence of the agents from US Customs and Border Protection, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Marshals Service was intended to tamp down on the demonstrations but instead reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement.
The US agents began drawing down on 31 July under an agreement between the US Department of Homeland Security and the Democratic governor, Kate Brown. But protests have continued nightly at different locations since then, with demonstrators calling for the city council to defund the police and reinvest the money in the black community.
Police precincts in the north and east of the city, the police union headquarters and a building that houses police offices have been frequent targets. Officers made dozens of arrests last weekend and this week after clashes with demonstrators who police say have thrown eggs, bottles and rocks at officers; started fires and punctured the tires of police vehicles.
Tuesday night, one group blocked traffic downtown in a peaceful gathering that authorities did not interact with, Portland police said in a news release. They said a person in another group, near the Penumbra Kelly public safety building, fell off the back of a pickup truck and authorities brought in an ambulance to take the person to the hospital. No arrests were made and no crowd control methods were used, police said.