A mob last week rampaged through downtown Portland, Ore. Police were unable to control the crowd, however, because of restrictive measures passed this year by the Democratic state legislature.
A crowd of 100 people on Oct. 12 smashed windows and graffitied buildings, causing more than $500,000 in damage, police said. The violence followed a memorial to a Portland anarchist who in 2019 was hit by a car and killed.
Police made no arrests at the protest and did not directly intervene. Officers said their hands were tied by a state bill, passed in June, that in most situations restricts police from using crowd-control devices such as pepper spray and rubber bullets.
"The reason that we did not intervene goes back to what we talked about last month with House Bill 2928 and the restrictions placed on us in a crowd-control environment," police lieutenant Jake Jensen said last week.
Oregon House minority leader Christine Drazan (R.) told the Associated Press that the bill allows police to use those non-lethal tools against violent crowds but that "activist attorneys" have misinterpreted the legislation to keep police from intervening at all.
Portland police sergeant Kevin Allen told the AP that "until we have some clarity on the bill we have to follow the most restrictive interpretation of it."
Residents of Portland expressed concern that the new police protocols make Portland a "lawless" city when it comes to confronting riots.
"Does that mean we are now like a lawless city, anyone can come in and just bash around and do all the damage they want without any repercussions whatsoever?" one resident asked Jensen.
Jensen replied that the city is not lawless because perpetrators can still face consequences in a followup investigation.
Portland last year saw some of the most destructive and sustained rioting in the country amid the nationwide protests following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.