As federal troops withdraw, Portland protesters dig in

©Agence France-Presse

Demonstrators listened to speeches during a protest July 31, 2020 in Portland, Oregon

Portland (AFP) - Amid the partial withdrawal of controversial federal troops from Portland, protesters in the Oregon city said over the weekend they were digging in for a much longer fight. 

Sierra Boyne, a 19-year-old African American first-aid provider wearing a vest with a red cross, said protests were not about to wane. 

"Seeing the energy," she told AFP, looking around at a crowd of hundreds, "the movement will not stop until there is a definitive change." 

The scene outside the recently embattled federal courthouse was mostly peaceful Saturday and early Sunday, though police elsewhere in the Oregon city clashed with a crowd hurling bottles.

After days of fury prompted in part by the presence of the federal troops deployed by President Donald Trump, the scent of tear gas lingered in some areas. 

Much of the tension earlier filling the air was gone, but several protesters, echoing Boyne, said they were not about to stand down.

Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement urged a crowd of thousands to "re-center" their efforts, away from challenging the militarized federal presence and back to the racial justice demands that have seized the nation since African American George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police during an arrest in May.

The relative calm of recent days came after the US government agreed to draw down federal troops in a deal reached with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, with state police called in to protect the federal courthouse.

On Saturday, after one person reportedly launched a firework at the federal building -- an act that previously would have drawn a sharp police response -- fellow protesters chastised the person responsible.

'Not saying goodbye'

Yet, several demonstrators insisted that the gradual departure of the camouflage-wearing federal troops, sometimes operating out of unmarked vans, would not end protests against systemic racism. 

"We are not saying goodbye," 46-year-old Alicia told AFP. "This is a never-ending movement. No one is leaving. This is a revolution."

After the recent deal with the government, local, state and federal law enforcement remained largely absent from the central zone, and protests have ended mostly peacefully, with chanting and singing. 

But while the courthouse area remained relatively calm Saturday, protesters and police clashed in the city's eastern section, local media reported.

After demonstrators began throwing bottles and aiming lasers at officers, the police declared the gathering unlawful and, after ordering people to disperse, repeatedly charged at them, reports said. No injuries were immediately reported.

What will it take to ultimately defuse the anger in the progressive city and end the protests?

No single issue garners consensus, but Boyne listed these objectives: the "defunding" of police, more subsidies for the poor, and the resignation of Mayor Ted Wheeler, whom she blamed for a "brutalizing" police response.

But protester Alicia held out a considerably broader demand -- nothing less than the revocation of the US Constitution.