PORTLAND — Portland police on Monday defended their use of batons to shove Occupy Portland protesters from a camp they had held for weeks, and also revealed that bottles and an open pocketknife had been thrown at police officers during a confrontation hours before the camp was taken down.
Riot police moved into the camp shortly after noon on Sunday, using batons to shove a cluster of protesters out of the camp and dragging out those who resisted, including some who were holed up in a makeshift fort made of plywood, pallets, shopping carts and other debris.
A total of 51 protesters were arrested during the Sunday afternoon action. It came several hours after thousands of people had filled an adjacent street during the night to try to hinder police in carrying out Mayor Sam Adams’ order that protesters had to leave the camp by midnight Saturday.
There wasn’t much left of the camp when riot police entered it. Many protesters and the homeless people who lived there since Oct. 6 had moved out. Most of the tents had been taken down.
What was left was a scattering of tents and a makeshift fort built of plywood and debris.
At least one demonstrator, Justin Bridges, was hospitalized after being dragged away by police. Demonstrators took to Twitter to accuse police of using excessive force when they dragged Bridges from the front lines, saying authorities aggravated a prior back injury. Police said Bridges fell and officers pulled him out of harm’s way and had no way of knowing his medical history.
Assistant Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea said officers needed to use their batons to clear the park.
“When it came to a deliberate push through the park, the baton is what you use,” he said at a news conference.
One video circulating on Twitter shows an officer raising his baton above his head and thrusting it down; officials said he was slapping the arm of a demonstrator who grabbed another officer’s nightstick.
Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese, who also were at the news conference, said they had carefully crafted a strategy for getting protesters to relinquish two adjacent parks where they had set up their camp. O’Dea also said he talked with police chiefs in other cities with Occupy camps for ideas on how to avoid confrontations in accomplishing the task.
Adams said the strategy chosen was to resort to patience, rather than tear gas.
“It was an incredibly difficult situation that took an amazing amount of patience and long hours to get the job done,” Adams said.
Still, there were numerous tense moments during two days of confrontations that led up to police taking the camp on Sunday.
After the camp was secured by police on Sunday, throngs of people showed up to show their support for Occupy Portland.
As police used heavy equipment to dismantle the makeshift fort, riot police stood in a line to prevent protesters from trying to return to the camp. Police warned the throng of people, who had shut down a street, to move or officers would have to use force, including the possibility of using tear gas.
Protesters stood their ground, some of them yelling at the police.
But there was debate among them about what to do. A woman on a bullhorn said: “If we really want to make a change, standing here yelling the same thing over and over again isn’t going to do anything.”
Protesters eventually retreated to Pioneer Courthouse Square to discuss what to do now that they had lost their camp.
Protesters’ confrontation with police began Saturday night, as the deadline neared for Occupy Portland to leave a camp that once had 300 tents.
Thousands of people arrived downtown to try to make it difficult, if not impossible, for police to move against the camp, spilling into a street and bringing traffic to a halt.
Protesters and a line of riot police stood against each other for a couple of hours. Protesters chanted and some of them danced.
It was at that point that a few protesters threw bottles and an open pocketknife at officers, said Reese, the police chief. The knife struck one officer in the helmet but he was uninjured. Police showed restraint, keeping to their strategy, Reese said.
“Without their restraint and professionalism, this could’ve gone a different direction,” Reese said.
After dawn, the party was thinning out. Soon all that was left were a handful of people still at the camp, including some inside the makeshift fort.
That’s when police decided to make their move. Police surrounded the camp and gradually drove out demonstrators.
From the point of view of Portland officials, their operation was a success because it got the job done and they didn’t have to resort to more severe methods, such as tear gas.
“It paid off,” Adams said of the preparation. “Where other Occupies had to use tear gas, had to use pepper spray and projectiles, we have not.”