Why Portland police aren't doing more at Trump protests

Anger over protests on interstate

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland police have been tasked with controlling protesters who are demonstrating against Donald Trump’s election. For the third night in a row, thousands of people are expected to take to streets and parks across the city.

More protests planned Thursday

With limited officers and a growing crowd of demonstrators, police Wednesday night allowed protesters to march onto the freeways, blocking traffic for hours.

Sgt. Pete Simpson said they may not allow that again but the sheer size of the protests makes it difficult for the police force to stop them.

“You know we can’t make any promises,” Simpson said of the police response going forward. “I will say we look at last night’s event and we may adapt some of our response to tonight.”

A few actions Wednesday night put safety in jeopardy. Two people were arrested. One person reportedly broke another person’s phone, and another allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail onto a bonfire in downtown Portland.

The rest of the protesters were mostly peaceful but Simpson said blocking streets and marching onto freeways is illegal. Police may make more arrests Thursday night and in the future to protect public safety.  

“If you’re going on the freeway, you are putting yourself at risk,” he said. “The last thing we want is somebody come crashing through a crowd of people because they’re frustrated and angry or they ignore a barricade.”

Simpson said if protesters were arrested, they wouldn’t spend much time in jail.

“We do make strategic arrests of people who are instigating violence, who are doing vandalism and graffiti and kind of inciting the crowd. We may pick those people off because they’re fueling the fire if you will,” he said. “There is no chance those people would stay in jail longer than a few hours at best.”

Simpson said if the protesters take to the freeways again, he worries some could be seriously injured.

“All it takes is one driver, potentially distracted,” he said. “They don’t see the crowds in the road and they don’t see people are stopped and it starts a chain reaction. If that happens people could be critically injured. People could be killed.”

As for the drivers, Simpson said they should have perspective.

“Yes, it’s a traffic inconvenience. Yes, we’ve got gridlock but nobody’s dying, nobody’s getting hurt right now. So let’s really think about what we want to do here,” he said.

The leader of one of the protest groups, Portland’s Resistance, told KGW protesters are shutting down highways to make the biggest impact possible.

"I think if we just protested on the sidewalk, nobody would talk about us," said Portland's Resistance leader Gregory McKelvey. “I understand being stuck in traffic is inconvenient but it’s also inconvenient to be black, or be Latino, or Muslim, or LGBT in Trump’s America."

More: Protest leader on why Trump protests shut highway


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