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Opinion The Backstory: What our reporters saw, heard and learned at the Portland protests

13:10  31 july  2020
13:10  31 july  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

FBI says its investigating 'specific violations of federal law,' not ideology, in Portland protests

  FBI says its investigating 'specific violations of federal law,' not ideology, in Portland protests The FBI defended its actions in ongoing confrontations between federal agents and demonstrators in Portland, Ore., claiming federal law enforcement was focusing only on people committing violence and damaging federal property. © Getty Images FBI says its investigating 'specific violations of federal law,' not ideology, in Portland protests Protesters have dominated the streets of Portland since early June, when demonstrations sparked across the country after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in police custody.

One Portland demonstrator, Mark Pettibone, 29, said he had been part of the protests before four people in camouflage jumped out of an unmarked van Kelly Simon, the interim legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said that the alarming federal tactics, such as the unmarked

The department told the Post in a statement that the reports "were produced under pre-established classified intelligence reporting requirements that are developed through a rigorous process to include legal and Intelligence oversight guidelines." CNN has reached out to DHS for comment on the story .

I'm USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.

a person wearing a hat and sunglasses posing for the camera: USA TODAY reporter Trevor Hughes on the ground during protests in Portland, Ore. © Trevor Hughes USA TODAY reporter Trevor Hughes on the ground during protests in Portland, Ore.

Trevor Hughes spent last week in Portland, Oregon, covering the growing unrest. He joined reporter Lindsay Schnell, who grew up near Portland and has been based there for the past nine years, to cover the protests.

I wanted to hear from both of them. I had questions.

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The Reporters . Like other US cities, Portland , Oregon saw a wave of peaceful protests over Floyd's death in Minneapolis, with thousands taking to the streets to demand police reform and racial The role of federal troops sent to Portland is the subject of intense speculation at the moment.

National reporter focusing on immigrant communities in America. The reckoning spurred by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis continues rippling across the country, with federal agents moving to pull back in Portland , Ore., as protests continue there.

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What don't we see? What don't we hear enough about?

"The thing to bear in mind is that, especially for this most immediate period of time, the protest is only immediately surrounding the federal courthouse," Hughes said. "And so it wasn't like people were wandering the streets setting buildings on fire. This was very, very limited to a couple of blocks right around the courthouse."

a group of people in a dark city street at night: A firework detonates outside the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, early on July 27, 2020, during a confrontation between federal agents and protesters. © Trevor Hughes, Trevor Hughes-USA TODAY NETWORK A firework detonates outside the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, early on July 27, 2020, during a confrontation between federal agents and protesters.

After President Donald Trump deployed more than 100 federal law enforcement agents to Portland, the protests intensified. The administration said the agents were there to protect federal property. Local officials and critics accused the president of creating more conflict amid national protests over racial injustice and police brutality against Black Americans. On Wednesday, local and federal officials announced an agreement to begin withdrawing the federal agents.

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Then I heard someone calling for the overthrow of Portland ’s “leadership,” and I’d figured I’d finally found an anarchist. But it turned out to be Maria Bartiromo OK, I’ll fess up: Sure there are anarchists and antifa activists in the Portland protests , just as there are radiologists and electricians, lawyers

The Reporters . There have been nightly protests against police brutality in the city since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minnesota in May. Image caption People in Portland have been hanging banners aimed at federal officers from their balconies.

Were the protests mostly peaceful? Were they violent?

Both, Hughes said.

"You had people showing up with baseball bats. We had people try to tear down the security fence around the courthouse. They tore the security cameras off the buildings. They tried to break the windows. When law enforcement responded with the tear gas, for instance, the crowd would pick up those tear gas canisters and throw them back at the police officers."

But, he said, "The vast majority of people there were being peaceful, exercising their constitutional rights in a very polite way. But those large crowds allowed a small number of people the cover necessary to shoot fireworks from the darkness, to throw glass bottles."

And the response? Hughes only saw tear gas and pepper spray deployed, but others reported less-lethal ammunition such as rubber bullets being used.

How did it get so heated?

Schnell said protesting is part of Portland. "One thing about this city is that we love to protest and in a lot of ways, I think we're pretty angsty. If you live here, it's easy to let the protesting kind of fade into the background. We're always protesting something. But when the feds showed up, suddenly it renewed people's energy."

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  UN: US protesters, journalists need their rights protected GENEVA (AP) — Protesters and journalists in U.S. cities including Portland, Oregon, must be able to take part in peaceful demonstrations without risking arbitrary arrest, detention, the unnecessary use of force or other rights violations, the U.N. human rights office said Friday. Spokeswoman Liz Throssell of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted reports that some peaceful demonstrators in Portland had been detained by unidentified officers. “That is a worry, because it may place those detained outside the protection of the law, and may give rise to arbitrary detention and other human rights violations,” she told reporters in Geneva.

The 53-year-old Portland resident had heard the stories : protesters injured, gassed, sprayed with chemicals A video taken by Portland Tribune reporter Zane Sparling that captures David’s moment of resistance has At the hospital, he said, he learned his right hand had been broken in two places.

Often, the downtown protests — now in their 62nd consecutive day — have devolved late at night as some protesters lob fireworks, bottles and cans at the federal courthouse and federal officers, shine lasers in their eyes and try to dismantle a reinforced fence installed outside the courthouse.

She said her city is passionate and the protests against inequality have hit home, in part because of the makeup of the city. Portland's population is 77% white and 6% Black, equating to about 40,000 Black people in the city.

"I think part of it is we recognize our city is painfully white and has a really racist history within our city and within our state," she said. "There's an attitude among Portlanders that, you know what, so many times we've just let it fade to the background and we can't do that anymore."

She was also struck by how young some of the activists were. Too young to vote, but out on the streets night after night. "They're coming together and saying we can create change. And I think we are seeing that more and more across the country."

Another storyline emerged as well. Activists worried the violence was overshadowing the message of Black Lives Matter protesters.

Edreece Phillips, 48, had been protesting for weeks. He told Hughes he'd been keeping people off the courthouse fence. He talked to federal agents, who told him if the protesters stayed back, they'd stay inside the courthouse.

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  Portland protests: Homeland Security and Oregon reach deal to begin withdrawing federal agents from city The Trump administration has reached an agreement with Oregon's Democratic governor to withdraw federal officers from downtown Portland, though the Department of Homeland Security says it will maintain a presence in the city for the time being. © Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP A demonstrator flashes a peace sign at federal officers during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore.

The Reporters . Image caption The presence of federal law enforcement officers on the streets of Portland is controversial. The Trump administration is planning to withdraw some federal security forces from Portland , Oregon, after weeks of clashes with protesters .

Protesters in Portland , Oregon, are being met with tear gas and rubber bullets after federal officers were sent in to protect government buildings. Earth size planet confirmed around our nearest star. Trump asks reporter to remove 'politically correct' face mask. Bezos dodges questions at first Congress hearing .

“They don’t come out unless we try to get in," Phillips told Hughes. "All that stuff people are doing is making it so that Black voices are being heard less and less and less.”

He kept an eye on the courthouse. At one point, as protesters were getting closer, Hughes reported Phillips "snatched a sign from a young man and stomped on it."

"I am sick of you doing this," Phillips yelled to the protester, dressed in all black. "I have warned you already. I'm sick of it."

He told Hughes he saw small groups of white protesters aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement throw water bottles at the federal court building, shoot fireworks and shake the fence.

“A lot of the people who are doing it are not Black. They throw  s--- and start  s--- and run away and yell 'Black Lives Matter,' and then go home and take off their clothes. But I can’t take off my black," Phillips said. "And the more damage they do to this building – well, everyone thinks it’s people of color doing all this and it’s not. “

It was important for us to report from Portland, to stand at the courthouse fence, to watch both law enforcement and the protesters, to find the stories behind the stories. Even if it meant being in harm's way.

Hughes said when he's reporting, he "keeps his head on a swivel." His keeps his back toward a wall, and is constantly surveying what is coming near him.

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"You have to remember that in these instances, we are not the friend of anybody," he said. "We're not on anyone's side, we're not anyone's buddy. You are just as likely to get shot with tear gas or pepper balls as you are to be punched by a protester, especially if you're in the middle of a protest, specifically identified as press, because there are many, many people within these groups who believe that large organizations like ours are part of the problem."

For that reason, many reporters, including Hughes, keep their identification tucked away until they need it. In Portland, there was an agreement that police would not specifically target journalists. So Hughes bought a yellow vest from a hardware store and stapled "PRESS" in reflective letters across the back.

He tried not to get between officers and protesters, but stay to the side. He was both reporting and photographing the scene, so his face was often in his camera's viewfinder. "I shoot, then look around. I shoot, then look around." He has been tear gassed plenty in his career, but now knows the signs of when it's time to move.

And he said he wouldn't be anywhere else.

"We're on the front lines of history right now," Hughes said. "These are events that schoolchildren will study 50 years from now.

"I really feel that responsibility to try and get it right and be accurate so that people can look back at our coverage and say, yeah, this was what happened."

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Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. Reach her at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter here. Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free experience or electronic newspaper replica here.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The Backstory: What our reporters saw, heard and learned at the Portland protests

DHS to change camouflage uniforms of federal agents deployed to Portland .
To dilute militaristic optics, acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said the remaining federal agents in Portland, Oregon, will transition away from their camouflage uniforms. © Provided by Washington Examiner Cuccinelli was one of several department officials who testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to discuss the federal response to protests that escalated in Portland over the last few months. He wrote in a prepared testimony that DHS law enforcement officers interacting with crowds are identifiable by both their agency and their individual identity.

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