(Headline USA) For nearly 30 minutes, armed protesters from the far-left Antifa clashed with right-wing Proud Boys last weekend in the streets, business parking lots and school grounds of a diverse neighborhood in northeast Portland, Oregon.
Cars attempted to drive by Sunday as fireworks exploded in the road and there were confrontations between people in helmets and gas masks and armed with baseball bats, paintball guns and chemical spray.
Noticeably missing was the Portland Police Bureau, which has been severely curtailed after radical policies and defunding efforts prompted the city’s entire anti-riot squad to quit earlier this year. Since then, it has struggled finding officers to step up and fill the ranks of the high-risk, low-reward job.
Before the skirmish, officials said people shouldn’t expect to see officers trying to intervene or keep the sides apart.
But the lack of intervention by law enforcement has left residents feeling “terrorized and abandoned” and local and state leaders frustrated.
“As soon as the fighting began and spilled out into the neighborhood, the police should have come in and stopped it,” complained state Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Democrat who represents a large swath of the Parkrose community where the confrontation took place.
“I’ve heard from a number of Parkrose residents who felt exposed and betrayed by the lack of police presence,” he added. “They have every reason to feel that way.”
Ahead of last week’s demonstrations, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said he took into account “legal restrictions” when responding to protests, the history of officers’ presence increasing tensions and the department’s staffing shortage.
Police have 145 less officers than they did a year ago.
In June, the team of 50 police officers, who served on a specialized crowd-control unit in Portland, Oregon, and respond to ongoing, often violent protests, resigned en masse after a team member was indicted on criminal charges.
Based on these factors, Lovell said he made the decision not to “place officers in an extraordinarily unsafe position between groups of people who are highly motivated to confront one another.”
Antia gathered at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront park early Sunday afternoon waving Black Lives Matter flags.
About 8 miles away at an abandoned parking lot in the diverse Parkrose community, Proud Boys gathered and listened to speeches decrying the pro-Marxist Antifa movement and calling for the release of those arrested during the U.S. Capitol uprising on January 6.
The clash between subsets of the two groups interrupted traffic around 4 p.m. on a busy thoroughfare in the Parkrose neighborhood, and crept into business parking lots—forcing at least one gas station to close early—and onto Parkrose High School property.
At least one video, shared online by a Portland Tribune reporter, showed a family with young children running to their car to escape the clash.
Fireworks explode during the clash between Proud Boys and Antifa in east Portland today
In the second half of the footage, a family out shopping runs to their car pic.twitter.com/9qWDqUmlvz
— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) August 23, 2021
After 30 minutes of fighting, the two sides separated on their own.
The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported that Portland police were monitoring the fight from an airplane.
But, even as group members—many of whom officials said were from out of town or out of state—left the area, residents were left reeling by the violent events.
Michael Lopes Serrao, superintendent of the Parkrose School District, said he felt “heartbroken for the community” knowing some of his students and their families watched the violence from their homes.
Community members were left picking up trash and remnants of paint, glass and bear mace the following days, he said.
“It’s confusing at best, and frustrating for many who live here,” Lopes Serrao said.
“East Portlanders traditionally have felt more ignored by the city in general, so I believe this only exacerbates that concern,” he complained. “Why would you ignore one of the areas of the city that has been historically underserved. If Portland is about equity, then we should be elevating this community and protecting its vulnerability.”
A common complaint from proponents of the “defund the police movement,” however, is that overpolicing has existed in traditional impoverished and minority communities where their presence is often the most needed.
In the days following the clash, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Lovell said they stood by the police bureau’s approach and said it “contained” violence between the groups.
“With strategic planning and oversight, the Portland Police Bureau and I mitigated confrontation between the two events,” Wheeler said. “And minimized the impact of the weekend’s events to Portlanders.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press