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Portland protest peaceful after federal presence reduced
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Portland protest peaceful after federal presence reduced

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PORTLAND  — More than a thousand people showed up in downtown Portland early Saturday to peacefully protest, about three days after the announcement that the presence of U.S. agents there would be reduced — a deal that Oregon officials hope will continue to ease tensions as the city tries to move on from months of chaotic nightly protests.

Friday's overnight protest mimicked that of Thursday, which was the first time in weeks that demonstrations ended without any major confrontations, violence or arrests. The change in tone outside a federal courthouse that’s become ground zero in clashes between demonstrators and federal agents came after the U.S. government began drawing down its forces in the liberal city under a deal between Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and the Trump administration.

As of midnight on Saturday, no federal agents had emerged from the courthouse, which has been the center of protests for weeks, and there was no noticeable law enforcement presence surrounding the area.

The fence that has separated protesters and U.S. agents stationed at the courthouse was decorated with balloons and upside down American flags sewn together with “BLM” painted across, an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.

At one point in the night a small firework was shot over the fence. As it sizzled out on its own, protesters pleaded with others to remain peaceful. Later, a few small fires were occasionally started outside the courthouse, with at least one put out by other protesters.

Unlike previous weeks, protesters were not centered mainly outside the courthouse, but scattered throughout downtown.

A group identified as “Firefighters for Black Lives Matter” gathered in a small park a couple miles west of the courthouse. Another group, “Unemployed Workers for Black Lives” began to march towards the federal building around 8 p.m. People stood next to a makeshift memorial, with the pictures and names of Black people killed by police, at the Waterfront Park. A parade of cars with Black Lives Matter signs taped to their windows slowed traffic in the city.

Just after midnight, the crowd had grown to over 1,000 people who remained outside chanting “Black Lives Matter” and shouting the names of Black people killed by police. Groups were also standing together engaging in conversations about social injustice. In a news release early Saturday, the Portland Police Bureau described the crowd as subdued and said there was no police interaction with protesters.

As agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement pulled back, troopers with the Oregon State Police took over. Since then, there have been no visible signs of any federal law enforcement presence outside the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse.

In a tweet, President Donald Trump Friday night reiterated that the Department of Homeland Security “is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!”

The scene outside the federal courthouse stood in sharp contrast to the violent clashes between protesters and the agents that Trump sent to Oregon’s largest city in early July. Protests have roiled Portland for more than two months following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

And while thousands have marched and rallied peacefully, Portland’s federal courthouse became a target for some protesters. Smaller numbers of demonstrators tried to tear down a fence erected to protect it, lit fires at the courthouse entryway and hurled fireworks, flares and bricks at the agents holed up inside. Most nights, the agents responded by firing tear gas.

Under the deal announced by the governor, the agents will withdraw in phases.

The U.S. government had arrested 94 people as of Wednesday, the most recent accounting. Since the protests began, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said local police made more than 400 arrests.

Earlier this week, Los Angeles police released body-worn camera footage Friday that shows a protester with his hands up as he is shot in the head with a less-than-lethal round when officers tried to contain demonstrations against police brutality in May.

Meanwhile in Austin, six people have been arrested on a variety of charges as the state’s crackdown on protesters at the Texas Capitol continued.

The six were arrested over the past two weeks on charges arising from actions alleged to have occurred during demonstrations on May 30-31 against police brutality against Black and Hispanic persons, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday. All have been released on bond.

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