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Federal Law Enforcement Officers To Leave Portland, Ore.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Oregon, a standoff between the Trump administration and local officials could be nearing an end. Gov. Kate Brown announced today that the federal government will pull back law enforcement who have clashed violently with demonstrators there since early July. We'll hear from Gov. Brown in another part of the program. The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, is presenting the deal a little differently. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Dirk VanderHart joins me now from Portland.

Welcome.

DIRK VANDERHART, BYLINE: Hey, thanks.

CHANG: So this agreement could help bring down tensions that have been mounting for weeks in your city. How is the governor even framing the deal at this moment?

VANDERHART: Yeah, she is really presenting this as a big win at this point. So for weeks, Gov. Brown and other state officials have repeatedly demanded that the Trump administration pull back federal officers that, as you said, were sent here in early July. And under the deal announced today, Brown says at least some of those officers will begin to be phased out starting tomorrow. In their place, she is sending Oregon state troopers who will act as security for this courthouse, which has really been a focal point of the protests. In her statement today, Brown said, the federal government - essentially said the government has conceded to her demands.

CHANG: OK. Well, acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf has also been talking about this deal. Would you say that he agrees with Brown's characterization of it?

VANDERHART: Pretty clearly not. Wolf and other federal officials today have presented this as a win for their side. So their side is that they've been calling for local officials to protect the federal courthouse from vandalism or small fires that some demonstrators have set. And they suggest that, you know, those demands have now been met because state troopers will be coming in to give that protection. But Wolf it is also really downplaying this notion that federal officers are actually leaving the city like Brown says. Here's what he said in a press conference today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHAD WOLF: Our entire law enforcement presence that is currently in Portland yesterday and the previous week will remain in Portland until we are assured that the courthouse and other federal facilities will no longer be attacked nightly and set afire.

VANDERHART: You know, there is obviously a little discord there in these two versions, and we are still looking for more details into what's behind them. I think what's likely and possible is that DHS officers will remain nearby, maybe in the area but will not actively be at the courthouse every night like they are now. We should note, though, that federal authorities who are normally assigned to protect the courthouse will still be present.

CHANG: OK. So if the presence of federal officers does diminish, how likely is that going to calm down the protesters, you think?

VANDERHART: Well, I think state officials are certainly hoping it's very likely. These federal officers have drawn so much outrage in recent weeks. People have been very, very focused on getting them out of the city. And so, you know, the sense is this should help calm things. I don't know that we can assume it's going to solve everything here. I mean, the question will be how state troopers actually respond to demonstrators if things flare up again.

CHANG: Right. Well, I mean, the country has been pretty focused on Portland recently, mainly because the president sent these federal law enforcement officials there in early July. But protests have been going on for a lot longer than that for, you know, where you are. Can you just bring us up to speed on how things in Portland even got to this point?

VANDERHART: Well, that's right. Yeah. Actually, we are about two months into nightly protests for racial justice related to the killing of George Floyd. I mean, those have come in waves. So in late May, shortly after Floyd was killed, thousands of people were in the streets every night. That began to wane by late June when maybe around 100 people a night were coming out and clashing with police. But as I said, the federal presence here has really, really energized things. You know, dads and moms and vets are coming out. Today's deal is going to change things. I think we can say that. We are just not exactly sure how.

CHANG: That's Oregon Public Broadcasting's Dirk VanderHart in Portland.

Thank you.

VANDERHART: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.