(AP) — People arrested in Portland since late May on non-violent misdemeanor charges during the Black Lives Matter protests that have racked the city for more than two months won’t be prosecuted.
The new policy announced Tuesday recognizes the outrage and frustration over a history of racial injustice that has led to the city’s often violent protests and the practical realities of the court system, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said. It is running more than two months behind in processing cases because of COVID-19.
As a result, at least several hundred people arrested over the past few months will not face criminal prosecution, according to statistics provided by Schmidt’s office. The same no prosecution policy applies to those arrested on similar charges in future demonstrations, he said.
“The protesters are angry ... and deeply frustrated with what they perceive to be structural inequities in our basic social fabric. And this frustration can escalate to levels that violate the law,” Schmidt said.
He added: “This policy acknowledges that centuries of disparate treatment of our black and brown communities have left deep wounds and that the healing process will not be easy or quick.”
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, informed of the impending policy change last week, said the decision does not change Oregon law and still holds accountable people who commit violent acts or intentionally damage property.
“Committing a crime is different from demonstrating,” Lovell said in a statement. “The arrests we make often come after hours of damage to private property, disruption of public transit and traffic on public streets, thefts from small businesses, arson, burglary, attacks on members of the community, and attacks against police officers.”
The city’s protests have dominated local news and made international headlines for more than 70 days since the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly eight minutes. Consecutive nights of unrest last month that increasingly targeted a federal courthouse in Portland prompted President Donald Trump to dispatch U.S. agents to guard the building.
The presence of the agents from U.S Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service was aimed at quelling the demonstrations but instead reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement.