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Officials prepare for possibility of post-election destruction and violence

Portland city officials said there is not an identified threat. But they are preparing just in case things get out of hand.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The November 2020 election is just about a week away, and the presidential candidates are whipping up excitement with the electorate.   

But in the days leading up to the election, the angst and division in our country is quite noticeable, too.  

“I do think that given the state of polarization in the country that there is a very real possibility for some instances of post-election violence to occur,” said Portland State University political science professor Chris Shortell.

He said the chance for post-election violence is real, but he expects it will be isolated, as it has always been in the United States.

“When we look at other countries and we see widespread violence, that's usually in the context of an election that is not seen as being held legitimately," Shortell said. "Belarus is a good recent example of this."

Nonetheless, officials in Portland are preparing. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said on Monday that the city is working out a mutual aid agreement with state and federal law enforcement.

“We're pretty far down the road on these discussions and my expectation is that we'll be making an announcement in the next day or two about specifically what the plan is, and what the agreement is,” said Wheeler.

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Professor Shortell said having a plan is prudent, but it has to be done carefully.

"It has to be done in a way that is not alarmist and doesn't suggest that this type of activity is expected to be widespread," he said. "And it needs to very carefully distinguish between peaceful protest and acts of violence.”

Portland did see a strong reaction when Donald Trump won the 2016 election. There were protests for several days, causing some damage in downtown. More than two dozen people were arrested. But there was no widespread violence, here or across the country.

“And I think that's a key difference," Shortell said. "After the 2016 election there were a number of protests, there were marches and there was a lot of activity. But it's really important to distinguish between that and acts of violence, particularly violence against other people."

Late Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office weighed in, clearly indicating its biggest concern for trouble is focused on far-right political groups.

Spokesperson Charles Boyle wrote, "As they have on past election nights, it can be expected that some Oregonians will exercise their rights to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. However, we know that there are some, particularly armed white supremacist militia groups, who might use peaceful election night protests to incite violence and property destruction.”

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