As the vigil inspired by the Free Black Hell collapsed early Friday morning, there was no sign of Oregon State Police officials taking over the protection of federal buildings at the center of the protests.
Instead of being forcibly removed from downtown Lownsdale Square and the adjacent Chapman Square, which stands opposite the barricade of U.S. Court Mark O. Hatfield, the crowd thinned itself out, with many protesters marching toward their home.
Shortly after 1a.m., only a relatively small crew remained, away from the large crowd that had gathered four hours earlier to hear the speakers and chanting law enforcement slogans. Humor was festive, if subdued.
“Trump crossed his arms,” said Derrick, a 30-year-old protester, wearing helmets, ski goggles and holding a shield with the Oregon flag over it. “He underestimated us.”
“I do not think he understands that there are so many people connected with the so-called antifa, what he calls terrorists,” added Derrick, who requested that his full name not be published.
The Trump administration had sent dozens of officers from various law enforcement agencies to Portland in early July. President Trump justified the decision by saying that local officials had “lost control of anarchists and agents,” while Attorney General William P. Barr claimed that more officers were injured than protesters.
But the move sparked outrage among protesters, who accused officers of reacting aggressively to mostly peaceful protests, and left both the mayor of Portland and the governor of Oregon at odds with the president.
Wednesday evening, just hours after Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced a deal that would see federal law enforcement leave Portland, protesters and officers clashed in some of the most violent scenes yet, with tear gas, pepper balls and other irritants used in a way repeated to disperse the crowd after 11 p.m.
Before dawn, the Portland Police Bureau cleared downtown parks that had been used as a semi-permanent base during the protests, and later in the day about 100 state officers arrived. In an interview with the Oregon, Travis Hampton, Oregon State Police overseer, said his officers would have a cautious approach.
“You will find that these Oregon State Police troops are not easily provoked,” he told the newspaper.
Thursday’s protests drew a crowd of similar size as the other last nights. While there were several attempts at provocation, including fireworks and stones thrown, state police remained locked in the building and could only occasionally be seen watching the protests.
Some protesters said that without a visible police presence, the crowd had a different atmosphere. “It’s much lower and a little more submissive,” said Shannon Echavarria, a 53-year-old animal care professional, speaking at around 10 p.m. “Normally, by this time, people would fall into that fence. There would be fireworks. They would dump garbage.”
Echavarria said the change in tone was “100 percent because the federations are leaving”. But the different atmosphere seemed to surprise some protesters in surprise. Many had arrived wearing helmets and gas masks, but found themselves sitting in the park bar when they would have fled the night before.
“Well, it looks like there will be no more battle tonight,” a man said at midnight in front of a group of protesters dealing with shields. Minutes later, a small fire broke out inside the enclosed area outside the courthouse, though protesters quickly put it out before it spread.
Some protesters were wary of state police, noting that city police had used tear gas to disperse protesters long before federal officers arrived. Other protesters noted that Trump had warned him on Thursday that he could call the National Guard.
But most of the protesters seemed to welcome the calm and believed that the Portland protests would maintain their momentum. “It will draw families into protest. After all, as long as we wanted to remove the federations, that was really about the issue of black life,” Echavarria said.
As the crowd pulled towards the end of the night, a clumsy rapper named No Shoes said the time was right to focus only on entertainment.
“I think this may be the first time we did not gasp,” he told his audience.