Protesters clash with police, smash glass doors, disrupt lawmakers on 'unnerving' day at Oregon State Capitol in Salem

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SALEM, Ore. – A special session of the state Legislature was disrupted Monday by protesters opposed to policies designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Protesters broke glass doors at the largely empty Capitol building, tore tarps from the marble reliefs on the front steps and engaged in a brief standoff with Oregon State Police and Salem Police Department officers.

Police made at least four arrests during the six-hour rally that included more than 100 protesters, including members of the far-right Patriot Prayer group.

A search is ongoing for another man who attacked two reporters and tried to break into the Capitol building, police said.

"We're standing up for our constitutional rights to be here for this legislative hearing and for our rights to reopen the state of Oregon," Crystal Wagner said. "Why are they having a legislative hearing without the people? We are the people, we are the taxpayers. We're here to fight for our democracy."

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Aside from dozens of police officers, some staff and reporters were the only ones permitted inside the building Monday.

At around 8:30 a.m., Oregon State Police said protesters entered the Capitol, and at least one used "chemical agents" on officers. OSP troopers responded, though it is unclear how many pepper balls were fired.

An unlawful assembly was declared at around 9:20 a.m.

“At one point, we used pepper balls. I don’t know what else," Salem Police Lt. Treven Upkes said. "When people attempted to come into the building, they actually used pepper spray and other things on officers. In return, we used those to separate ourselves and get them to hold that spot. So I don’t know what all was used, but I know at least pepper ball was used."

He said, "There may have been other chemical munitions used by the crowd as well on us that seemed to have acted similar to … a CS gas."

Just before 11 a.m., a few protesters unlocked the gated fence surrounding the Capitol steps and began to remove a tarp covering two marble reliefs that were defaced during left-wing protests this summer.

About 2½ hours later, protesters smashed glass doors on the west end of the Capitol, attempting to enter the building.

As protesters swarmed the doors, a photographer for the Statesman Journal of the USA TODAY Network was repeatedly shoved. The photographer captured shots of protesters damaging the glass doors.

A short time later, there was a brief standoff between protesters and police department officers in SWAT gear at a nearby intersection.

"Do what's right," one protester said to the officers. "You can stand with us."

“It’s unnerving,” said State Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, who will be sworn in as secretary of state in January. “It doesn’t feel normal. And it feels really sad."

The Oregon Legislature met Monday to consider extending the emergency eviction moratorium and providing funds to tenants and landlords amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Oregon police make 4 arrests amid COVID-19 protests at Capitol

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