Keeping the peace is supposed to be a primary duty of law enforcement. For a long time, Portland police and political leadership have embraced a different strategy.
On Sunday, a group wanted to hold a religious gathering at a waterfront park in Portland. But counterprotesters garbed in the all-black outfits worn by antifa stormed the event. They threw smoke grenades and appeared to take apart the PA system, according to the Portland Tribune.
The police were close by. They just didn’t do much. That eventually led to conflict spilling onto Portland’s streets. Antifa blasted away with pepper spray. Someone with the right-wing group used a paintball gun to return fire.
Incredibly, a police officer watched the whole thing unfold from his vehicle. Instead of intervening, he briefly sounded his siren — which both sides ignored.
In another jurisdiction, that type of inaction hopefully would lead to disciplinary action. In Portland, the officer was just following orders. Before the weekend, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said police wouldn’t be interfering in clashes between competing groups, according to the Oregonian. He wanted police to watch for lawbreakers.
That category should include assaulting people for their political speech.
This kind of hands-off approach to policing didn’t start yesterday or even last summer. It’s been going on for years to little outcry from the city’s political leaders. It has led to the destruction of government property and serious injuries to law enforcement officers. More broadly, this governmental paralysis has deprived its citizens of justice or order. It is so bad that the mainstream news media rarely reports on it, because when it happens every day, it’s not news anymore.
That doesn’t make it any less dangerous for those in Portland. On Sunday, antifa also assaulted a female photographer — stealing her equipment, knocking her to the ground and pepper-spraying her. Clashes between antifa and the Proud Boys happened at another event as well. The Proud Boys ended up demolishing a van they believed antifa had crashed by their event. Antifa blocked off intersections. Gun shots finally generated a police response.
What’s most concerning isn’t what happened Sunday. It’s that this weekend’s events represent the norm. Lawbreaking is so tolerated that police barely make an effort to stop it. State and local politicians issue statements no one listens to. President Joe Biden claims antifa is “an idea, not an organization.”
Portland needs leadership — from politicians and the police — to take back one of the largest metropolitan areas on the West Coast from the grips of lawlessness.