Human rights group finds violations by federal law enforcement in Portland

A team of experts with Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based group that documents

A team of experts with Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based group that documents rights violations, spent seven days in Portland investigating the use of crowd control weapons against protesters and law enforcement violence directed at volunteer medical staff.

That team released its findings Tuesday ahead of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C.

“PHR has concluded that the response by federal agents that it documented in Portland was disproportionate, excessive, and indiscriminate, and deployed in ways that caused severe injury to innocent civilians, including medics,” the report states.

Dr. Michele Heisler, PHR’s medical director, led the team visiting Portland. Heisler said they didn’t see any official EMTs or paramedics at the protests and that medical care was left to volunteers and civil society.

The report cites numerous instances where law enforcement deliberately targeted volunteer medics and their supplies.

“There was the case of OHSU, their tent was destroyed,” Heisler said. “There was one day where the police actually took their supplies.”

A medic attends to a demonstrator apparently shot in the neck with an impact munition outside the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., July 22, 2020.

A medic attends to a demonstrator apparently shot in the neck with an impact munition outside the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., July 22, 2020.

Bradley W. Parks / Bradley W. Parks

Heisler also pointed to a group called The Witches who have distributed food, water and first aid to demonstrators. That group reported having its medical supplies pepper sprayed by law enforcement, destroying the supplies.

Many of the incidents cited in the report have been corroborated by local reporting and videos filmed during the demonstrations.

The report also cites multiple instances of medics being targeted with impact munitions, and what appeared to be law enforcement’s indifference to injured protesters.

“Whatever we do,” Heisler said, “we have to respect U.S. laws and international human rights laws, of which treaties we’ve signed and are party to.”

In Portland, she said, that isn’t happening.

Tuesday’s subcommittee hearing was chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who said people had a right to assemble under the First Amendment as long as it is done “peaceably.” Cruz defended law enforcement in the hearing and said protests had been hijacked by “rioters.”

“Riots must be stopped,” Cruz said.

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