Police and National Guard React to Unruly Protests in Four States

Post-election tensions spawned clashes between police and demonstrators in Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., Seattle and New York City Wednesday and Thursday.

In Minneapolis, law enforcement officers arrested more than 600 demonstrators who marched onto an interstate in Minneapolis Wednesday night protesting President Donald Trump’s threats to challenge the results of Tuesday’s unsettled election, as well as a variety of social injustices.

Officers in riot gear surrounded the crowd and ordered them to sit on the pavement and wait to be arrested. At one point as the marchers awaited arrest, a spontaneous dance party broke out on the freeway.

No force or chemicals were used to make the arrests for walking on a freeway and being a public nuisance, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said Thursday.

A section of Interstate 94 was closed while officers from a number of agencies, including the State Patrol and Minneapolis police, arrested the demonstrators one by one. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says 646 people were cited and released.

Demonstrators criticized the officers for trapping them on the freeway, shouting that they would peacefully leave the interstate if allowed to.

“Walking on the freeway is illegal and very dangerous for pedestrians and motorists,” the State Patrol tweeted. “We respect the right of everyone to express themselves under the First Amendment, but the freeway is not a place to do that.”

In the Pacific Northwest, a riot was declared in Portland, Ore. and protesters took to the streets in Seattle on Wednesday as people demanded that every vote in Tuesday’s election be counted. Hundreds were protesting in both cities against President Donald Trump’s court challenges to stop the vote count in battleground states.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office at about 7 p.m. declared a riot after protesters were seen smashing windows at businesses. In the interest of public safety, Gov. Kate Brown activated the use of the state National Guard to help local law enforcement manage the unrest, according to the sheriff’s office.

Brown said previously she would keep state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and police officers under a unified command into Friday in Portland to handle protests amid uncertainty over the winner of the U.S. presidential election.

The Oregon National Guard had been on standby. Brown’s order places law enforcement agencies under the joint command of the Oregon State Police and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department, which allows those agencies to use tear gas if necessary to quell unrest. Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also police commissioner, banned the use of tear gas by Portland police earlier this fall after concerns about an overly aggressive response to the unrest.

Portland has been roiled by five months of near-nightly racial injustice protests since the police killing of George Floyd, and several hundred people marched in the city on Tuesday. Law enforcement made no arrests and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office thanked demonstrators for remaining peaceful.

Portland demonstrators on Wednesday held signs saying, “Count Every Vote,” and “Keeping Hope Alive.” Suzanne Thornton, 79, said she was motivated to attend a protest for the first time because of Trump’s court challenges.

“Our president seems to be making such a big deal about it and we need to clarify what the vote count is for. He doesn’t seem to get it,” Thornton said. “I don’t have a lot of patience with him because he is such a baby and I don’t see how so many people in this country see him as a leader.”

Gerry Foote, a 69-year-old former high school teacher, turned out to protest waving a sign that read “Teacher against tyranny. No hate.” Foote, who protested against the Vietnam War as a college student, said it was critical to prevent Trump from stopping the vote count.

Protesters in Seattle said they are also trying to make sure the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice causes remain in the spotlight. Some carried signs saying, “Stop Trump’s Racist Voter Suppression,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Don’t Steal the Election.”

The presidential race between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump remains too close to call, with votes still being counted.

“It’s important to trust the process, and the system that has ensured free and fair elections in this country through the decades, even in times of great crisis,” Brown said in a statement. “We are all in this together _ so let’s work together to keep our fellow Oregonians safe.”

In New York City, at least 20 people were arrested Wednesday night at a post-Election Day protest in New York City after police say piles of trash were set on fire and bottles were hurled at officers.

The arrests happened after hundreds of marchers demanding the counting of every presidential election vote converged on Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, where a smaller group started rallying against police misconduct.

Some of the people arrested were fighting with officers while others were blocking traffic, police said. The police department tweeted photos of several trash fires. Bystander video showed officers in helmets and tactical gear swarming protesters.

“We support everyone’s right to self-expression, but setting fires puts others at risk and will not be tolerated,” the NYPD’s tweet said. “We are working to de-escalate the situation… to prevent further damage from occurring.”

Activists quickly condemned the arrests and police tactics, which they said were reminiscent of the way officers penned protesters in during demonstrations in the spring and summer over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

Joo-Hyun Kang, the executive director of Communities United for Police Reform, tweeted: “This is police violence. This is police violence. This is NYPD trying to intimidate and suppress protests & 1st Amendment activity.”

Until Wednesday night’s clashes, post-election protest activity in the city had been largely peaceful. The “Count Every Vote” march, one of several across the U.S., was planned days in advance after President Donald Trump first suggested that he would challenge the results of a close vote.

Hundreds of people marched past Fifth Avenue luxury stores, which were boarded up earlier in the week in anticipation of potential unrest.

Activist Linda Sarsour, the co-founder of the 2017 Women’s March, encouraged demonstrators outside the New York Public Library to keep marching against injustice in the days and weeks ahead, telling them: “Let’s stay in the street regardless of the outcome of this election.”

About the photo: A demonstrator, dressed as a police officer wearing a pig mask, walks through the streets around Washington Square Park, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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