Trump presses law and order message as protest turns deadly

Portland police stand guard during protests in Portland on Aug 29. (AP pic)

SAN FRANCISCO: A man was shot dead in the US city of Portland, police said Sunday, the latest violence to upend anti-racism protests as President Donald Trump presses an election message characterising his Democratic opponent Joe Biden as weak on violent crime.

Detectives said they had opened a homicide investigation after the man was hit in the chest as gunfire broke out Saturday in the Oregon city, an epicentre of near nightly demonstrations for three months.

The shooting followed a week of nationwide protest – including the cancellation of numerous sporting events – over the police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin of African American Jacob Blake.

Officers answered reports of gunfire as violence erupted during a pro-Trump rally involving hundreds of vehicles “caravanning throughout downtown Portland”.

“They responded and located a victim with a gunshot wound to the chest. Medical responded and determined that the victim was deceased,” Portland Police said in a statement.

OregonLive reported “clashes” and “tense moments” between demonstrators and counter-protesters, although police did not say whether the shooting, around 8.45pm, was connected to the rally.

Photographs from the scene showed the victim wearing a hat with a logo for “Patriot Prayer”, described by local media as a far-right group at the centre of multiple Portland demonstrations that have ended in violence.

Police said they made 10 arrests, although they didn’t specify whether those people were pro-Trump demonstrators or counter-protesters.

The Portland clashes followed unrest in Kenosha, where prosecutors accused 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of shooting dead two men and wounding another who were protesting against Blake’s shooting.

Trump is due to travel on Tuesday to the Midwestern city to meet law enforcement officials and view damage from unrest triggered by Blake’s shooting last weekend.

‘Law and order’

Violence connected to anti-racism protests has become a major issue in the campaign for November’s presidential election, with Trump presenting himself as the “law and order” choice and arguing that a Biden presidency would allow left-wing mob rule.

Biden condemned the violence and argued that Trump had played a role in spurring the clashes.

“He (Trump) is recklessly encouraging violence,” the Democratic nominee said in a statement.

“He may believe tweeting about law and order makes him strong – but his failure to call on his supporters to stop seeking conflict shows just how weak he is.”

Trump spent Sunday morning tweeting and retweeting dozens of posts purporting to show violence in Democratic-run cities, and especially Portland.

The president has repeatedly threatened to send federal government forces into the west coast city if Mayor Ted Wheeler does not crackdown.

Trump attacked Wheeler, a Democrat, for refusing help from the National Guard, which he said “could solve these problems in less than 1 hour”.

“Wheeler is incompetent, much like Sleepy Joe Biden,” Trump tweeted.

“This is not what our great Country wants. They want Safety & Security, and do NOT want to Defund our Police!”

Wheeler had shared an open letter to Trump on Friday denouncing the president’s “politics of division and demagoguery”.

“Portlanders are onto you. We have already seen your reckless disregard for human life in your bumbling response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he wrote.

“And we know you’ve reached the conclusion that images of violence or vandalism are your only ticket to re-election.”

‘Lives are lost’

Wheeler described protests as part of a “proud progressive tradition” in Portland but he also condemned violence and vandalism.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told ABC on Sunday that local and state officials were “not allowing law enforcement to do their job” to “bring this violent activity … to a close”.

He added on CBS that the state of Oregon and the National Guard needed “to do their job”.

“We need them to step up, and if they can’t or they don’t have the ability or the resources, ask the federal government, and we’ll provide the resources, as we have done in Wisconsin and others, so we can address any violence,” he said.

Asked if Trump was considering defying Wheeler’s request not to get federal law enforcement involved, Wolf said that “all options continue to be on the table”.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, said the violence and loss of life would not stop until law enforcement reasserted control.

“But … when you encourage the disdain for the police you encourage criminals,” he told CNN.

“When you do little or nothing to stop rioting, you encourage anarchy. People’s lives are lost.”