Anti-racist protesters gathered at the federal courthouse in Eugene on Saturday night in a display of solidarity with protesters in Portland, where protesters have demonstrated in support of Black lives every night for over two months. Anti-racists confronted counter-protesters and engaged in property destruction at various points during the night.
The demonstration began with approximately 500 protesters gathering at the Wayne L. Morse Federal Courthouse around 8 p.m. A musician with a speaker system played the trumpet while attendees with signs bearing anti-racist slogans milled about on the street where, several weeks ago, local artists painted “Black lives matter” in large yellow letters. Many attendees wore all black, though there was also a small contingent of women in yellow ─ Eugene’s own version of Portland’s now-famous Wall of Moms.
A group of several dozen counter-protesters arrived around 8:30 p.m. with plywood shields bearing slogans like “all lives matter” and “back the blue.” Many of the counter-protesters were open-carrying firearms.
Anti-racists and counter-protesters shouted back and forth with a few scuffles. At one point a counter-protester discharged their weapon skyward. The Eugene Police Department later arrested the man for Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Recklessly Endangering Another Person, according to an EPD social media post.
A gun was shot into the air, causing some people to scatter. pic.twitter.com/zVii9PQ2V7— Haley Lund (@Lundhale) July 26, 2020
The group of counter-protesters moved across the street, followed by anti-racists. A large number of anti-racist protesters occupied the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Coburg Road while a number of them directed traffic away from the group.
A motorist moved past those directing traffic and moved their truck into the crowd while brandishing a handgun at protesters. A black-clad protester ran up to the truck with a handgun of their own and a brief standoff ensued with both gunmen pointing weapons directly at each other. After close to a minute, the standoff ended without a shot fired and the motorist drove away.
Truck guy pulled his gun again, BLM protester ran up with their own gun and said drop it.(I usually avoid posting faces, but I would be negligent in my journalistic duty to modify this) pic.twitter.com/gqUBxe7Ba8— C. Francis O’Leary (@CFrancisOLeary) July 26, 2020
Protesters continued to shout and confront counter-protesters, with occasional scuffles ensuing between the two sides. Around 9:30 p.m. the counter-protesters moved away down Eighth Avenue, pursued by chanting demonstrators for several blocks.
The protesters, still numbering more than 200, returned to the courthouse, where a speaker addressed the crowd about police abolition and encouraged “diverse tactics,” not just those that are legal. The speaker also decried “peace policing.”
“Peace policing is not respecting a diversity of tactics,” the speaker said. “Property destruction is not violence. Property cannot feel.”
After the speech, the group marched to the Lane County Jail. There, protesters gave more speeches, while some others shot off fireworks. The protest moved on shortly thereafter when a loudspeaker announced that the Lane County Sheriff’s Department had declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.
The protesters moved through town chanting the names of victims of police violence, as well as anti-police and anti-racist slogans. One call repeated several times was, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to live. We must love each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
As the march progressed, some of the protesters vandalized city property, including the police auditor’s office, with spray paint. Protesters also moved trash cans and traffic cones into the procession’s wake, an effort to prevent a car attack from behind, according to one protester.
The protest stopped briefly at the intersection on Willamette Street and Broadway, where the protesters assembled hasty barricades made of street signs, picnic tables and trash cans. A protester ignited the contents of a trash can. Another promptly put it out.
The procession continued and some protesters smashed windows at Wells Fargo, Whole Foods and Elk Horn Brewery. At each location some protesters attempted to prevent the destruction, while others chanted to stop peace policing.
Elk Horn Brewery is currently being smashed up. pic.twitter.com/pEuWxFGirA— 𝕁𝕒𝕞𝕖𝕤 - probably at a protest - ℂ𝕣𝕠𝕩𝕥𝕠𝕟 (@jwcroxton) July 26, 2020
At the Wells Fargo location, a young Black man encouraged people not to break windows. “Why are you defending Wells Fargo?” a Black woman shouted at him. “They don’t care about Black people. They don’t care about poor people. They don’t care about anybody.”
When protesters broke windows and spray-painted Elk Horn Brewery around 11:30 p.m., EPD, who at that point in the night had been absent or distant, moved in and declared the assembly unlawful. They ordered the crowd to disperse or be subject to impact munitions and tear gas.
The remaining protesters, still over 200 according to EPD, marched through town ahead of the police with continuous sirens and warnings to disperse.
EPD arrested the driver of a protest support vehicle that was blocking traffic behind the procession as well as several protesters, including one underaged girl, who EPD said were throwing rocks at the officers.
EPD officers deployed two canisters of CS gas and pepper ball ammunition on the crowd as it marched through the Jefferson Westside neighborhood. EPD said it used crowd-control munitions after some protesters continued to throw projectiles at the officers.
After being subject to crowd control munitions, the crowd dwindled as it continued to pass through the neighborhood. Around 12:30 a.m., the remaining handful of protesters dispersed as they once again approached the federal courthouse, where another line of police was waiting.
Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis released a statement Sunday expressing support for peaceful protesters while admonishing property destruction.
James Croxton and Haley Lund contributed to the reporting of this story.