Portland police ask for clear streets at barricaded house

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Masked protesters by an occupied home speak with a neighborhood resident opposed to their encampment and demonstration in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Makeshift barricades erected by protesters are still up in Oregon’s largest city a day after Portland police arrested about a dozen people in a clash over gentrification and the eviction of a family from a home. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland’s police chief on Friday implored protesters to clear the streets around a barricaded home that was owned by a Black and Indigenous family before it was allegedly taken through predatory lending practices.

Before dawn Tuesday, sheriff’s deputies swooped into the disputed home and arrested several people, mostly for trespassing. Activists, many of whom had participated in Black Lives Matter protests in Portland for months, arrived on the scene and confronted law enforcement officers, who retreated.

“Employees of the Portland Police Bureau are working diligently behind the scenes to do everything we can with partners and community members to safely resolve the situation,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said. “PPB appeals to those behind the barricades to dismantle them or leave them behind.”

Using fencing, lumber and other material, activists have erected barricades around the house, located in an area of homes, coffee shops and restaurants in what was historically a Black neighborhood but has become gentrified. Protesters also have placed homemade spike strips, piles of rocks and thick bands of plastic wrap stretched at neck-height across the road to keep law enforcement officers out.

In a possible de-escalation of the situation, the real estate investor who now owns the red house has offered to sell it back to the former owners, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported Friday.

“We are a small family business. We don’t seek to hurt anyone of course,” said Roman Ozeruga, who bought the home at a foreclosure sale in 2018 for $260,000. “We’ve already offered to sell back the property at cost because of course we’ve paid taxes, legal fees, bank fees, etc.”

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt on Friday praised “the neighbors and community members who have refused to stand by silently” and instead raised alarms about what was happening to the Kinney family that had owned the house since the 1950s and was evicted.

“The shame is that it took this type of an intervention to bring so many together to want to remedy the situation,” Schmidt said.

But he also said neighbors are scared to leave their homes and noted that journalists who went to the scene this week were allegedly assaulted. One suffered a hand injury when a protester slapped her cellphone from her hand while she was recording video.

“Continued violence, property damage, and harm to our community is inexcusable and will be met with aggressive prosecution,” the district attorney said.

The 124-year-old house is in a historically Black part of Portland that for decades was one of the few areas where Black residents could own homes. Racist real estate and zoning laws kept them out of other many other neighborhoods.

The neighborhood has rapidly gentrified in the past 20 years.

Ozeruga, the real estate investor, said he fears for his family’s well-being because of the protest activity.

“I myself am a father of little kids,” he said. “I don’t have a publicity team or even a lawyer for this. I’m concerned for safety, to be honest.”

Police have said between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, there have been 81 calls to the property for fights, gunshots, burglary, vandalism and noise complaints, among other things.

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Selsky reported from Salem.

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