By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) – Protesters lit fires, threw rocks and smashed windows at county government offices in the U.S. city of Portland on Tuesday, prompting police to declare a riot, after weeks of mostly peaceful anti-racism demonstrations.
The protesters, some wearing gas masks and carrying shields, lit fires in dumpsters and used lighter fuel to start a fire inside the Multnomah Building big enough to set off the sprinkler system, police said.
TV footage showed debris on the street in flames and people throwing stones at the building. The fire in the building was put out by police, media said.
Black Lives Matter protests have been held across the United States in recent months after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Protests, including in Portland, have at times erupted into arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the Northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting the federal courthouse there.
Police said some officers were targeted a night earlier with a “powerful green laser” capable of causing permanent eye damage when some protesters marched on the Portland Police Association building.
“Portland Police has declared the gathering near the Multnomah Building a riot after individuals vandalized, repeatedly smashed first floor windows with rocks and threw burning material into an office,” the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.
Police said some crowd control “munitions” were used to disperse the protesters, but no tear gas.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury released a statement at midnight, saying a small group of protesters had set fire to the Office of Community Involvement.
“This is the heart of our county, where people in our community come to get married, get their passports, and celebrate their cultural traditions and diversity,” the Oregonian website quoted her as saying, adding the space is dedicated to community members “marginalized by the traditional political process.”
Police said on Wednesday an officer sustained a minor injury and there were two arrests, one on charges of rioting, unlawful use of a weapon and assaulting a public safety officer, and another on charges of criminal mischief and reckless endangering.
A crowd of several hundred people gathered in the city’s Colonel Summers Park late on Tuesday before marching through Southeast Portland streets, eventually arriving at the Multnomah Building, police said.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr came under fire from Democratic lawmakers earlier this month for sending federal officers to disperse protesters in the city.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Tuesday called for the Department of Justice to prosecute a group of people caught on videotape beating and kicking a man who crashed his truck near protests in Portland.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Macfie)