“When you interject yourself as the police into this volatile mix sometimes it has a worse intention or worse outcome than what was happening initially,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said in a news conference Tuesday, according to the Oregonian.
Police are investigating a Saturday rally in which Black Lives Matter protesters squared off with pro-police protesters at their “Back the Blue” rally.
“Sometimes the more prudent course is to not get involved,” Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis told the Oregonian. “You run the risk of making a bad situation remarkably worse.”
Some of the pro-police protesters came armed with paintball guns, bats or even real guns while racial injustice protesters came with rocks and fireworks, according to the Washington Post.
The two groups fired paintballs and fireworks back and forth for two hours and several protesters were injured.
Portland police made loudspeaker announcements for protesters to “self-monitor” for criminal behavior while remaining at a distance.
“Portland police support free speech and assembly,” someone with the department told protesters are the start of the rally. “Our primary focus is life and safety. Please demonstrate lawfully and help us keep events safe.”
At one point, a pro-police protester who is a member of the far-right Proud Boys pointed a gun at counter-protesters, but no shots were fired.
Portland police have faced criticism for not trying to break up the skirmish, including from Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Davis said the department only had 30 officers available for the protest due in part to a protest that turned into a riot at a police precinct the night before which required a heavy police presence.
Despite repeated warnings, police never went into the crowd once the clashes began.
The pro-police group finally retreated after two hours and counter-protesters were dispersed by federal officers, the Oregonian reported.
No arrests have been made.