Portland Police at the January 20 protest
Portland Police at the January 20 protest Doug Brown

Just weeks after calling the Portland Police Bureau's heavy-handed response to the January 20 protest "wrong and illegal," the ACLU of Oregon sent a letter to the PPB today urging the bureau to change its approach to crowed control, saying the "current policy has serious flaws and that additional clashes between protesters and police appear inevitable if the policy remains unchanged."

Dressed in full-on riot gear and ready for battle, Portland police officers—along with a handful of other agencies brought in to help with the Inauguration Day activities downtown—shot less-lethal rounds, deployed flash-bang grenades, and set off tear gas at groups of nonviolent protesters gathered near Pioneer Courthouse Square.

"Portland’s protest policy should emphasize restraint, de-escalation, and the use of force only as a last resort to ensure public health, safety, and welfare," said ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Mat Dos Santos.

Per the ACLU of Oregon, today:

The ACLU of Oregon is concerned that the current policy conflates threats to public safety with constitutionally protected activity that may be perceived as disruptive or disorderly. Furthermore, the group urged new thinking around the use of riot gear and crowd control weapons and tactics.

"Current social science shows that the use of militarized police or police dressed in 'hard gear' leads to escalation of conflict, not de-escalation,” said Katherine McDowell, vice president for legal affairs at the ACLU of Oregon. “Many of the Portland Police Bureau’s crowd control weapons and tactics pose significant and irreparable health consequences and should be employed only in very limited circumstances."

Police shot this man a number of times with less-lethal rounds
Police shot this man a number of times with less-lethal rounds Doug Brown

Here are the civil rights group's recommendations:

• Clarifying the limited circumstances under which police should be able to use military tactics and equipment, such as impact munitions and riot control agents, as well as limiting the uses of aggressive tactics such as containment, dispersal, and mass or selective arrests;

• Revising the ambiguous and broad use of the term “peace and order” and similar language in the definitions and throughout the directive;

• Eliminating a procedure wherein police inquire about the “purpose” or “intent” of free speech activity with organizers and/or confer with potential targets of protests;

• Emphasizing that that the lack of a permit does not make a protest unlawful in the directives and updating the City of Portland’s onerous permitting process for unplanned or spontaneous events; and

• A warning against the use of illegal profiling to determine whether a protest potentially poses a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare.

If you want to go a little more in-depth, check out the full letter the ACLU of Oregon sent the PPB, with suggested revisions to the crowd control policy, here, or read it below.


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