Oregon State Police, the Salem Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff's Office plan extra staffing on New Year's Day in anticipation of four separate protests. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Salem and state police are preparing for a series of events in Oregon’s capital city on New Year’s Day and are advising residents to stay away from the Capitol, Mahonia Hall and Bush’s Pasture Park.
Lt. Treven Upkes, Salem police spokesman, said no street closures are currently planned. But police have a contingency plan if that becomes necessary.
Among the events include live wrestling, a demonstration against fascism, a protest regarding government documents and a rally against Covid restrictions.
Salem police said in a news release Wednesday evening that the agency’s primary goal is to prevent or stop violence and property damage while respecting the right to free speech and assembly.
“These goals and objectives are based solely upon the neutral interests of overall public safety, regardless of the view held or expressed by any particular group of protestors,” the release said.
Oregon State Police put out a similar release Wednesday encouraging people to practice their first amendment rights peacefully.
The agency said its goals are to ensure a safe, non-violent environment for rallygoers and residents. It also said troopers will “deter or prevent criminal acts and take enforcement action as necessary.”
Recent demonstrations in Salem have turned violent, with protesters beating other protesters and damaging property. Five people have been arrested in connection with a far-right event at the Capitol earlier this month that resulted in reporters being assaulted and police sprayed with bear mace and windows smashed at the building.
Upkes said police will try to keep the groups from converging.
Of the events is one organized by Oregon Women for Trump, a group that describes itself as a patriotic women’s group that supports conservative values and President Donald Trump. The group is planning a march to Mahonia Hall, governor’s mansion in southeast Salem, from the Capitol starting at 1 p.m. Friday called a “Civil Disobedience Rally and March.”
The march is intended to protest Covid restrictions. Its organizers did not respond to a Facebook message seeking comment.
“We the people of Oregon have had enough, and are not taking it anymore!” according to the Facebook post announcing the event. “We are done with the ridiculous shut downs of businesses, schools, people livelihoods, and the phony mask mandate. The tyranny has got to stop!”
Many residents are displeased with the Salem Police Department's response to previous protests and posture on protecting demonstrators' first amendment rights. An online petition demanding Salem police stop the march has garnered more than 50,000 signatures.
"This activity is not peaceful protest. It is not an exercise of 1st Amendment rights. It is illegal. The Salem Revised Code does not allow street marches without a permit and violators can be fined," the petition reads.
Upkes said Salem police have been able to contact most of the groups planning events, but by Thursday morning still had not connected with the group calling itself Fascist Free 503, which is planning a call to action at Bush’s Pasture Park at noon.
The Facebook post for that event said community groups will be set up tables and provide information on how to stand against “the fascist Trump cult insurgency, connect with individuals and organizations working to uplift and protect your community.”
Organizers refused to answer questions about the event and sent the following statement:
"Friday’s Fascist Free 503 event is a response to repeated right wing violence in the Salem area. We are a diverse group that believes that Black Lives Matter and opposes all forms of oppression. We believe that the growing trend toward right wing extremism needs to be countered by productive community organizing which is why we are gathering to network, lift up marginalized voices, and let Salem know that hate has no home here."
There’s also a live wrestling event planned at the Capitol at 1 p.m. called “Grapple at the Capital.” A poster for the event of Facebook said there will be no masks or social distancing and is intended to take “our freedom and health back!”
The event’s organizer Mark Tracey, a Hillsboro mixed martial arts coach, didn’t respond to a Facebook message seeking comment. But he said on Facebook that he will set up wrestling mats where kickboxers, wrestlers and jiu jitsu and karate fighters will square off.
The fourth event is organized by a group called Birth and Dignity Foundation USA. According to the event’s Facebook page, it’ll be held at 11 a.m. at the Capitol. The event’s organizers did not respond to Facebook messages and emails seeking comment. The event page had little information except a reference to House Bill 2842, a bill from the 2019 legislative session that would have made it easier for people to change the parentage on birth certificates under certain circumstances.
Upkes said that between Salem police, Oregon State Police and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office more than 100 officers will be on duty at the various gatherings.
The New Year’s Day events will be costly for the Salem Police Department. The average officer will make around $55 per hour because Friday is a holiday and officers are paid as if they are working overtime.
But Upkes said police aren’t planning to cite or arrest people for minor infractions to avoid further inflaming the crowd.
“We’re trying not to create flashpoints by minor enforcement,” he said.
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