US Attorney Billy J. Williams, who has been the chief federal law enforcement official in Oregon for 5 years, went after the media in a recent interview conducted by KGW News outside the Mark O. Hatfield US Courthouse in Portland for not calling the riots that have ravaged the city criminal activity.
Williams began by saying that what has been happening is "pretty disgusting and unfortunately happening every night. This is just mindless violence and anyone who defends the violence is enabling this to continue so that's unfortunate, but it's a mess."
The first reporter continued by asking what it's going to take in order to turn around everything that has been going on.
Williams said that it is going to have to "a community solution," adding that "it’s not a law enforcement solution, we’re responding, dealing with it, protecting this property just like the city police are protecting city property, but any real solution to stop the mindless violence that goes on has to come from the community and I include various community leaders, faith leaders, business leaders working with whoever wants to join in a coalition. Whatever you want to call that, the coalition of the willing, whatever."
The reporter followed by saying it would take "a village."
Williams responded: "No. I’m not, I’m not going down that road. No, it takes some leadership, which is missing right now. But to change this, because otherwise this activity is just, it’s hijacking the moment in history right? There are opportunities following the murder of George Floyd and the thousands and thousands of lawful protesters and groups calling for change, which everyone can agree there’s change needed, so this is one of those moments in history where it can occur, but it’s being held back by this. This is just mindless violence and it’s been politicized and in my view that’s what enables this to continue because no one in their right mind thinks this is okay."
A second reporter suggested that what is happening in Portland has been politicized by the federal agents who have been deployed, but Williams shot back by saying "the federal agents being here are protecting federal property, that is not accurate. Blaming federal agents for protecting federal property is an easy out for people who want to politicize this."
The reporter pressed Williams on why federal agents were out on the streets if they are merely protecting federal property, but Williams responded by saying that it is worth looking into "what took them out there, but again this is such an easy political out for people who want to politicize what’s going on."
The reporter then turned to the topic of Trump, asking if Trump was politicizing the protests and riots.
Williams said: "The politicizing of the violence is what I’m talking about, okay? I’m not going to get into a debate. I don’t walk in that lane. I walk in the law enforcement lane. This, look around, I mean, do you think it’s okay? Is there any justification for this? I hope not. I mean Portland is losing its soul right now and what’s coming out of City Hall, calling cops liars, that they’re the ones of starting the fires and then blaming protesters, I mean how ridiculous is that?"
"That’s not leadership. So, what I will tell you is, this needs to stop. People lawfully protesting need to be able to do it safely and work together for the changes they’re asking for in a democratic, following democracy, and legislative changes, policy changes, whatever, but this isn’t accomplishing anything."
Williams was asked how long the status quo could possibly go on considering that riots have raged on for the past 50 days.
He said: Well, you know, that’s a great question. Is this, for a city who likes to have a reputation as an environmentally sound, does this help? Yesterday morning there were hundreds of plastic bottles out here? How does that help the climate? The environment? So, how long this goes on? You have to ask the community how long they’re willing to tolerate this mindless violence because this doesn’t promote the cause of protesters, it just destroys property."
"And so, to answer your question, if there are allegations of misconduct, there are investigations going on right now, it’s a process, there’s accountability in every agency, that’s why you have these measures that you go through when you do an investigation. So, if you’ve got an allegation that needs to be reviewed and looked at, it’s a process, it’s called the criminal justice system. And the administrative side of an agency review, every agency has it, every agency goes through it, whether it’s state, local, or federal."
Reporter: You think when the mayor came down the other night and talked to protesters that that was enabling it or was he helping to quell it?
Williams: You know, the mayor is the mayor of Portland. He can come down and talk to whomever he wants to. Mayor Wheeler has tried to address the difference between protesters and violence. So the fact that Mayor Wheeler came down here to engage and answer questions that’s his choice to do that, it’s not a criticism and the fact that people turned violent and we’re yelling terrible things at him, that doesn’t help the city or or in this, this just shows you the mindless violence people are willing to engage in. Mayor Wheeler or any anybody else gets to come down and speak at a lawful protest and no one on this side of the fence wants to interfere with that, but this is nonsense.
Reporter: Let me ask you though, because after he was tear gassed as we all know and he, while he was here, fires were set, fireworks were thrown over this barricade, yet he said he saw nothing that he thought demanded that kind of response that federal agencies gave him.
Williams: Well, I disagree with that. Federal agents are protecting this property. They are following a training and protocols of when and how to respond and so I don’t agree with that, but I’m not criticizing the mayor for coming down and speaking. He has the right to do that.
Reporter: So, we’re going back to how you were talking about this is shadowing the overall message about black lives matter, right? You feel like the late night demonstrations are taking away from the fight for racial justice?
Williams: These aren’t late night demonstrations. This is criminal activity. There’s a difference. What you have failed and the media have failed to distinguish, between, you seem unwilling to call people engaged in criminal conduct, as criminals, as opposed to lawful protesting.
Reporter: Well, some may argue that the way the federal agents are acting is criminal too and we’re not saying that.
Williams: Well argue away on that.
Reporter: But we’re not saying either, so.
Williams: I’m just saying there needs to be a distinction made between lawful, constitutionally protected protest, and this. This is unlawful. And people, whether you’re an opportunist, an antagonist, an agitator, or an anarchist, call it out for what it is.
Report: So, you’re saying the late night activity that is criminal–
Williams: What I’m telling you, is you seem to refuse to call something, ‘late night activity,’ this is criminal.
Reporter: I just said the late night activity that you say is criminal, right?
Williams: What I’m saying is, why can’t you call it out as such?
Reporter: Because I’m not, I don’t have all police records.
Williams: You’re using, ‘late night activity,’ it sounds like a party. It’s criminal. Look at the debris. We have we haven’t had a front door since July 3rd. That’s criminal, okay?
Reporter: So, but I’m just saying, I’m not a police officer, I don’t get to distinguish that, that’s not my job.
Williams: No, but you can call it out for what it is. You’re choosing terms that sort of downplay the criminal activity and what I’m suggesting is if there is an honest accounting of what this is, that helps build the reality check for how this can stop. That’s my point.