The following details provide a timeline and account of the Salem Police Department response to protests occurring in the city of Salem on Saturday, May 30, 2020.
Rumors of demonstrations
On Friday, May 29 Salem Police began receiving information of possible demonstrations to take place on Saturday night, May 30. The information varied from plans for peaceful demonstrations to threats of looting, rioting and arson.
Planned and impromptu events are taken seriously, and the department makes every effort to communicate with organizers to help ensure demonstrations are peaceful and rights are protected.
As a result of the information received, the Salem Police Department Mobile Response Team (MRT) was activated. The team consists of more than 20 officers trained in various levels of crowd control and the use of less-than-lethal crowd dispersal tools. They are outfitted in protective gear which includes a helmet, gas mask and protective padding. The MRT deployment was supported by numerous other officers to support the team or provide uninterrupted patrol response.
May 30, 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.
A group of approximately 50 young people gathered peacefully near the Capitol building. Just before 9 p.m., the group began a march into the streets without the required City of Salem permits. The group proceeded into the downtown business district. Although the march created some traffic congestion, there were no signs of other criminal activity, and officers monitored the march without any intervention.
After approximately 45 minutes, officers closed intersections in order to guide the growing crowd of about 500 toward the Capitol and away from the downtown area. March organizers were contacted and assisted in directing the crowd back to the steps of the Capitol building. Once at their destination, speeches and chanting took place. At that time, some individuals in the crowd vandalized statues and areas on Capitol grounds with spray-paint.
Shortly after 11 p.m., the organizer declared the event over and asked the participants to go home. Some participants departed, but a crowd of approximately 200 people remained at the Capitol steps. Eventually, the crowd of 200 splintered into smaller groups with approximately 100 people attempting to march again into the city center. Officers formed a line on Court and Church STS NE to block the groups progress toward downtown Salem.
People in the crowd began to throw items at officers including mortar fireworks, bricks, rocks, glass bottles, and water bottles. At 11:30 p.m. the crowd was warned of the City of Salem-imposed curfew and with the direction to disperse. A long-range acoustic device was used for the announcement, to which the crowd responded by moving back to the east toward the Capitol, but did not disperse. An additional large group of people began to gather behind officers at the intersection of Court and Church STS NE. Different factions in that crowd began to fight with each other and distraction devices were deployed toward the second large crowd to encourage dispersal.
After the curfew notifications and declaration of the group to be an unlawful assembly, the use of CS gas (commonly referred to as tear gas) was authorized to be deployed to disperse the crowd. The tear-inducing aerosol was deployed, and the crowd moved closer to the Capitol grounds, yet continued to throw objects at officers.
May 31, 12:30 a.m.
The crowd at Court and Church STS NE was dispersed and attention was directed to the group near the Capitol grounds. Officers deployed more gas and marched toward the crowd. Not until officers arrived back in front of the Capitol did the crowd fully disperse.
Reports of vandalism at the Salem Center Mall were received and officers arrived to find more than 100 people scattered along Liberty and Chemeketa STS NE. Resources were mustered including patrol personnel, MRT, and SWAT officers to act as arrest teams, if needed. Officers made announcements for the crowd to disperse but many refused, remaining gathered on sidewalks and in the middle of Liberty ST. Individuals in the crowd threw bricks and fireworks. CS gas and other dispersal devices were deployed to move the crowd.
The dwindling crowd moved to Liberty and State STS and dispersed enough that officers could leave the area. About the same time an uninvolved vehicle crash occurred at State St and High STS. A large crowd gathered at that location, impeding officers' ability to help the crash victims. Ultimately the crowd was moved onto the sidewalks and Salem Fire Department medics were able to treat the people involved in the crash.
Eventually the crowd near the crash de-escalated and officers and fire personnel were able to safely deal with the crash. At approximately 1:50 a.m. people were voluntarily dispersing throughout downtown allowing MRT and other personnel to return to the police station.
There was property damage done by people in the various crowds during the event. A complete listing of the damage has not yet been compiled, but what is known is there was graffiti applied to multiple buildings in the area including the Capitol building. Several glass doors were broken at the Salem Center Mall and the Capitol Mall. Roofing nails had been laid out on streets causing an unknown amount of damage to the tires of various law enforcement vehicles and the vehicles of private citizens.
No arrests were made. No injuries were reported.
First responder resources
To manage the events described involved law enforcement resources from multiple agencies and the Salem Fire Department. In total, approximately 50 officers were needed.
The Salem Police Department extends thanks the Salem community for their support and understanding during events such as these. We support citizen rights to freedom of speech and assembly and ask that those actions be done peacefully and without harm to others or damage to public and private property.