Portland Begins 2021 With a Riot As Protesters and Police Exchange Firebombs and Impact Munitions

Police in Portland, Oregon declared a riot early on Friday as a gathering in the city's downtown became violent. People were ordered to leave the area or face arrest and the possible use of force.

"A gathering in downtown Portland has devolved into a riot," Portland Police said via their verified Twitter account. "Participants have thrown multiple firebombs at officers and launched commercial grade fireworks at the Federal Courthouse and Justice Center.

"The violence from the crowd has prompted a declaration of a riot. All persons in the area of Southwest 3rd Avenue around Southwest Main Street are ordered to leave to the south and west immediately."

"If you do not leave you are subject to arrest, citation, and/or the use of force, including but not limited to impact weapons and tear gas," Portland Police said.

In a later update, Portland Police said: "Much of the crowd has broken up into smaller groups and spread out downtown. A large amount of burned debris will continue to block Southwest Main Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues."

The Portland Police Bureau later issued a statement saying that a crowd had gathered at around 7.45pm PST on December 31. They estimated the crowd grew to between 80 and 100 people before some individuals "began to engage in violence."

"At least two Molotov cocktail-style firebombs were thrown, and large, commercial grade aerial fireworks were launched at the Federal Courthouse and the Justice Center. Some individuals tried to use tools to break into the Justice Center at 1120 Southwest 3rd Avenue, but were not successful," the statement said.

Portland police also said some officers had been attacked with "large rocks, full size bricks, and frozen water bottles" and "paint balloons that may have been laced with a caustic substance as it caused burning to the skin." No officers were injured.

Few members of the crowd heeded an order to disperse, according the police statement, and "participants started multiple fires." This included a garbage can that was melted to the pavement as a result. Several businesses were also damaged.

Police said the crowd was dispersed by around 2.00am PST and officers did not use CS gas but did deploy "inert smoke and some impact munitions." Arrests were made but details are not yet available.

The police statement also noted that officers from the Federal Protective Services were involved. This is a uniformed division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Portland saw widespread protests in 2020, some of which involved rioting. Demonstrations began in May following the killing of Black man George Floyd while in police custody.

Protests continued into the fall and while most were peaceful, there were a number of incidents of looting and vandalism, while police used tear gas and other weapons to disperse crowds.

The Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse was a flashpoint for the protests. The building is across from the Multnomah County Justice Center on Southwest Main St. Multnomah County Courthouse is also nearby.

There was also controversy about the deployment of federal officers to the city in response to the violence. Department of Homeland Security officers pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters on September 17. They also used tear gas and projectiles to disperse the crowd after declaring an unlawful assembly.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, drew national media attention for his role in the protests. Wheeler publicly clashed with President Donald Trump on the deployment of federal officers and ordered Portland police not to use tear gas on demonstrators on September 9.

"During the last hundred days Portland, Multnomah County and state police have all relied on CS gas where there is a threat to life safety," Wheeler said at the time. "We need something different. We need it now."

Oregon state police called Wheeler's decision "reckless and shortsighted."

Update 1/1/2021, 6:40 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include a statement from the Portland Police Bureau. The headline has been changed to reflect the latest information.

Portland Police Detain Passengers on October 11
Police detain passengers in a mutual aid van during an Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage protest on October 11, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Portland Police declared a riot early on January 1, 2021. Nathan Howard/Getty Images