Police clear out protesters in downtown Portland

<p>A police officer uses pepper spray on an Occupy Portland protestor at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland Ore., Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.</p>

PORTLAND — A standoff at a street corner in downtown Portland ended mostly peacefully Thursday afternoon in the closest mass confrontation between protesters and police since the Occupy Portland encampment was dismantled Sunday.

Police in riot gear cleared protesters blocking the intersection on a day when hundreds took to the streets, holding up traffic and forcing some bank branches to temporarily close.

Officers used pepper spray, but Portland Police Lt. Robert King told KGW-TV he didn’t know the circumstances that led officers to use force.

“In general terms, in circumstances like this, we have told officers our policy indicates you can use a level of force that’s necessary to overcome the level of resistance you’re encountering,” King said.

King said officers’ goal is to keep the streets open for vehicles, buses and trains.

The standoff was accompanied by chants and protesters playing Darth Vader’s “Star Wars” theme song from megaphones, a way for them to mock the lines of helmeted officers dressed in all black.

Arrests continued throughout the day. They began with the detention of 25 people who sat on a bridge blocking traffic and refused to move during a rally organized by local labor groups. The protesters called for increased public spending to create jobs fixing bridges and infrastructure.

At a Wells Fargo bank branch, employees were joined by riot police and watched from inside the bank as protesters banged on windows and shouted slogans including, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

About 10 members of the Occupy Portland movement protesting mortgage foreclosures managed to get inside before the bank closed its doors. The protesters were then handcuffed.

A female bank employee closed a window blind, preventing protesters from seeing their detained counterparts. That set off a thundering of protesters’ fists banging on the window until the woman peeked out, shrugged and reopened the blinds. Protesters cheered.

The rallies marked the date two months ago when the Occupy Wall Street protests launched. The Occupy Portland encampment formed Oct. 6, and protester Mac McKinlay said each protest has been more effective than the last.

“We’re learning how to do this better,” said McKinlay, a retired landscaper and teacher.

Protesters who recognized one another hugged, many of whom hadn’t seen each other since the Occupy Portland camp was dismantled and the protesters evicted.

The 300-person encampment became a sanitation and public safety concern for the city, and Portland’s mayor said a series of drug overdoses — along with the detonation of a Molotov cocktail — were serious enough to merit the shutdown.

Thursday morning’s march was heavy on older union supporters. The marches downtown in the afternoon skewed toward the younger crowd who comprised part of the Occupy Portland encampment.

Pickup trucks carrying at least 10 police officers in full riot gear patrolled city streets along with bicycle officers in yellow jackets and police on motorcycles. Bystanders flooded out of downtown office buildings to watch the action.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Kim Brown, a downtown office worker. “They (the marchers) should get jobs and get off the street.”

The marchers’ tactics differed from a messy downtown march Nov. 2 that spilled onto two bridges and had no apparent direction. This march had coordinated plans and was divided into three segments that could divide and regroup if forced to by police.

The more sophisticated protest tactics were countered by a heavy police presence. At the downtown standoff, the Portland Police Bureau’s top two deputy commanders stood behind police lines at the center of the intersection.

By 3 p.m., local television stations stopped carrying live feeds of the rallies and marches. The protesters slowly thinned out through the city’s downtown and the steady beat from snare and bass drums dropped off.

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