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Portland Clashes Converge on Courthouse Named for an Antiwar Republican

2020-07-22 15:36:55
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At the federal court in Portland, Ore., the action usually takes place inside sleek, wood-paneled courtrooms. That is where an imprisoned C.I.A. spy admitted to smuggling notes to Russia through his son, where a judge upheld Oregon’s landmark assisted-suicide law, and where a jury acquitted seven people who participated in the armed takeover of a federal wildlife sanctuary.

In recent weeks, though, it is the exterior of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland that has become a battleground during chaotic, nightly protests that continued through Wednesday morning. Federal agents have fired projectiles and tear gas from inside the building as protesters lobbed water bottles, set fires and spray-painted the walls with phrases including “Feds go home.”

The federal courthouse — named after a longtime Oregon lawmaker who said he was “close” to being a pacifist — is perhaps an unlikely target for the demonstrations, which have more often focused on the building next door, which houses the Portland Police Bureau, a county jail and other local law enforcement operations.

But the Trump administration’s decision to send federal agents to Portland and other cities to stamp out protests and defend U.S. property, like the courthouse, has in recent days galvanized protesters against the federal government.

The courthouse, which takes up an entire city block and rises to 16 floors, began hearing cases in 1997, replacing a nearby building that had been home to the federal Oregon District Court for 64 years. It cost $129 million to build, according to an article published in 1998 in Oregon Benchmarks, a newsletter for the court’s historical society, which said the building’s design had received “more plaudits than pans.”

The courthouse is named after Mark Odom Hatfield, a Republican who served as Oregon’s governor from 1959 to 1967 and then as one of its senators from 1967 to 1997.

Before his political career, he served as a Navy lieutenant in World War II and visited Hiroshima not long after the United States dropped the atomic bomb, experiences that shaped his worldview and turned him against many future American wars, including in Vietnam. Many described him as a pacifist — he never voted for a military authorization bill — but he told The Associated Press in 1991 that he was not one, only “close.”

“I find that war, with exceptions, has really not settled very many things that were the causes of the wars in the first place,” Mr. Hatfield said in that interview. Later in 1991, he proposed a bill that would have required federal executions to take place in public and in a place where they could be broadcast on television, believing that doing so would lead the public to oppose the death penalty. The Senate never voted on the bill.

Mr. Hatfield was also known for his devout Christianity and willingness to work with Democrats. As a state lawmaker in 1953, he worked to pass the state’s civil rights bill outlawing racial discrimination by hotels and other businesses. Mr. Hatfield died in 2011 at age 89.

Julie Engbloom, a lawyer and president of the federal court’s historical society, wrote in the group’s most recent newsletter about graffiti on the courthouse that had covered a quotation from Thomas Jefferson. Etched into the building’s stone is a phrase that Jefferson wrote in opposition to adding Missouri to the United States as a free state: “The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave.”

“The graffiti painted on our beloved courthouse is difficult to take in,” she wrote. “But we must.”

Ms. Engbloom added that the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May had unleashed a wave of protests that were “rolling toward us like a tsunami.” The protesters were demanding “more from our institutions,” she wrote, “including the courts.”


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