The Portland police chief said Wednesday that he remained “greatly concerned” about an area occupied by demonstrators attempting to block the eviction of a Black and Indigenous family, explaining that individuals have stockpiled weapons, assigned armed guards and spray-painted threats to kill police officers at the so-called Red House on Mississipi Avenue.
“We want a peaceful & safe resolution to the occupation of public space on N Mississippi Ave,” Chief Chuck Lovell said on Twitter Wednesday. “We are greatly concerned about the fortification of barricades, stockpiling of weapons, armed sentries, attacks on journalists & threats to kill officers in graffiti in this public space.”
Residents neighboring the property have been boarding up their homes and erecting fencing around their own properties amid concerns about “threatening behavior and intimidation they’ve experienced” over the past three months, according to the Portland Police Bureau.
The occupation continued early Wednesday and individuals remained overnight, Fox News has learned. Police were not at the scene overnight, but the bureau tweeted Wednesday that demonstration liaison officers were available to communicate with those at the house.
Portland activists illegally occupying the so-called Red House claim two sons of the previous homeowners were among those arrested Tuesday, as Mayor Ted Wheeler directed police to take “all lawful means” necessary to ensure there is no autonomous zone in the city.
Several others were arrested Tuesday, including one person who was spotted with a firearm. Law enforcement also learned the home was broken into and that people were entering and exiting despite a judge’s order.
Since September, individuals have been trespassing on the home’s front and backyards and camping on adjacent privately owned and city-owned properties, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said.
Activists have reportedly refuted the mayor’s claim that they formed an autonomous zone at the Red House, and instead told a reporter for the Portland Tribune that they formed an “eviction blockade.”
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, assisted by the Portland Police Bureau, said it responded to the home at 4400 Mississippi Ave. around 5 a.m. Tuesday “to re-secure the home in which the occupants were previously ordered removed by court order.”
The group called “Red House on Mississippi” published a press release allegedly describing its own account of the events that unfolded, claiming William X Nietzche, described as a resident and son of the Red House homeowners, was arrested and injured by officers. Another son, Michael Kinney, was arrested and released later that afternoon, according to the group.
“Despite permission to camp from the landowner, officers indiscriminately swept the area, targeting the popular free community kitchen, misgendering campers, all in the middle of an economic crisis and pandemic,” the press release said.
The home had been owned by the Afro-Indigenous Kinney family since the 1950s, according to the group’s website. They paid off their mortgage but took out another loan against the house to cover legal fees when one family member was arrested in 2002.
Julie Metcalf Kinney, one of the former homeowners, said her family is facing “sneaky and illegal foreclosure tactics, predatory banking and loans, elected judges who take campaign contributions from the real estate industry, coupled with violence from law enforcement and no real due process, have been used across this historically Black neighborhood to displace Black and poor people.”
Red House on Mississippi will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. local time Wednesday.
According to the group, demonstrators have maintained “an around-the-clock community presence along with onsite camping, a fully functional kitchen offering two free hot meals a day, and free programming centered in healing and abolition.”
The Portland Police Bureau said officers and deputies formed a perimeter around the site Tuesday to allow for private contractors to erect new fencing, but individuals removed the fencing and again trespassed on the property.
“Portland Police officers stood by while private property owners began to secure their property who police have been working with in anticipation of this morning’s activities. Private property owners arranged for boarding up and fencing,” police said.
Video posted online showed a crowd of demonstrators marching toward officers as they backed away both on foot and their police vehicles from the Red House Tuesday. People in the crowd tossed rocks and balloons filled with paint at officers. Footage showed a police vehicle doused in a chemical substance, which obstructed the windshield as it backed away down a street.
Timothy Becker, a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, told Fox News on Wednesday that “nothing has changed overnight” and reiterated that Wheeler, a Democrat, authorized “the Portland police to use all lawful means to end the illegal occupation on North Mississippi Avenue and to hold those violating our community’s laws accountable.”
Becker said Wednesday morning: “Individuals are still there. Police were not on scene overnight.”
On Tuesday, Wheeler said there will be “no autonomous zone in Portland.”
“We all agree many of our nation’s systems and structures are fundamentally racist and require significant reform. There’s a housing crisis, a health care crisis, an education crisis, an employment crisis, a mental health crisis, and an addiction crisis. All of these crises are magnified in urban areas, including Portland. And, these crises disproportionately impact Black people,” Wheeler said in a statement.
“It’s also true that illegal trespassing, ignoring lawful orders from police, blocking sidewalks and streets, and intimidating neighbors inflame these crises and make them more difficult to solve. That is what’s happening on North Mississippi Avenue right now.”
From Sept. 1 to Nov. 30, the Portland Police Bureau received at least 81 calls for issues related to these properties and the immediate area, according to police call log data. Calls for service included fights, disturbances, shots fired, burglary, thefts, vandalism, noise violations, trespassing, armed threats, and for illegally blocking traffic, sidewalks and access to homes.
Deputies first attempted to serve the judge’s eviction order at the Red House on Sept. 9. and said housing and food assistance were provided to everyone on the property. A judge in the Multnomah County Circuit Court issued an eviction notice in February 2020 – before the federal and state emergency moratorium on eviction went into effect during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the sheriff’s office, which is responsible for civil enforcement and released its own summary of events, “The eviction moratoriums do not apply to evictions based on post-nonjudicial foreclosures, such as this case.” The Oregon Judicial Department told Fox News that the eviction has been contested and continually upheld in court since November 2018.