Diaspora

Man Charged With Murder in Shooting at Protest in Portland – The New York Times

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A 60-year-old woman was killed and five others, including the suspect, were shot during a confrontation near the man’s house, the authorities said.
Sergio Olmos and
PORTLAND, Ore. — A 43-year-old Portland man was charged with murder on Tuesday in a shooting during a weekend protest against police killings in which a woman was killed and five others including the suspect were wounded.
The man, Benjamin Smith, remained hospitalized in serious condition on Tuesday after the encounter in the Rose City Park neighborhood on Saturday, the Portland Police Bureau said.
Mr. Smith was charged with one count of murder in the second degree with a firearm, four counts of attempted murder in the first degree with a firearm, two counts of assault in the first degree with a firearm, and two counts of assault in the second degree with a firearm.
On Saturday night, Mr. Smith confronted a group protesting at Normandale Park, near his house, and asked several participants to leave, according to an arrest affidavit. When someone in the group told Mr. Smith that he should leave and go home, Mr. Smith told them that they should “make” him leave and he aggressively approached someone in the group, who pushed him back, according to the affidavit.
Mr. Smith continued to yell at the group, the affidavit said, and then drew his handgun and fired at multiple people. The shooting stopped when Mr. Smith was shot near his hip, according to the affidavit.
Police Chief Chuck Lovell in Portland said at a news conference on Tuesday that the shooting arose from a confrontation between “an armed resident of the area and armed protesters,” but the police and other law enforcement officials declined to provide details about what unfolded Saturday night or say who shot Mr. Smith.
The police identified the woman who was killed as Brandy Knightly, 60, who was shot in the head at close range and died on the scene, according to the affidavit. A total of two men and three women were wounded, the police said.
One victim was struck in the neck and was in critical condition, paralyzed from the neck down, according to the affidavit. Another victim was struck in several places and was also hospitalized. Two other victims were also struck, and later released from an area hospital, according to the affidavit.
It was not clear whether Mr. Smith had a lawyer.
One of the people who were shot on Saturday, Dajah Beck, 39, said in an interview that she, Ms. Knightly and two other women were not protesting but were part of a volunteer motorcade, helping to set up a safety plan and reroute traffic ahead of the marchers. None of the women were armed, and Ms. Knightly had to ride in a truck because she used a cane, Ms. Beck said.
As they were working, she said, a man approached them and screamed that they were “violent terrorists,” repeatedly called them a misogynist vulgarity and accused them of being responsible for violence in the city. The women were about a block from where Mr. Smith lives.
She said he threatened them, saying, “If I see you come past my house, I’ll shoot you.”
Ms. Beck said that Ms. Knightly approached the man and said: “You’re not going to scare us. You’re not going to intimidate us.”
The gunman then shot Ms. Knightly in the face, Ms. Beck said.
Ms. Beck said that she was shot twice, and that she saw two of her friends, including Ms. Knightly, on the ground, covered in blood.
The police declined to provide a motive for the attack, saying that it remained under investigation.
A search warrant was executed at Mr. Smith’s apartment over the weekend, according to his roommate, Kristine Christenson, 33, who said she had lived with him for seven years.
Mr. Smith, a machinist, had become more and more radicalized in recent years, Ms. Christenson said.
“He talked about wanting to shoot people all the time, how much he hated Antifa and Black Lives Matter and ‘those damn commies,’” she said.
Ms. Christenson said that Mr. Smith wore a shirt that said “Kyle Rittenhouse true patriot,” referring to the Illinois man who was acquitted of criminal charges after he fatally shot two men and wounded another during protests of police conduct in Kenosha, Wis., in 2020.
“Living with him has been getting progressively worse,” Ms. Christenson said of Mr. Smith. “I honestly have not felt very safe around him. His anger has gotten worse.”
The shooting in Portland was one of three violent episodes that night that unnerved residents of a city that has grappled with a rising number of homicides and shootings. About two hours after the shooting in Rose City Park, someone shot at a car, killing a woman and critically injuring a man. Two children who were in the car were also shot but were in stable condition, according to the police. Earlier on Saturday, the police said they shot and killed a person after responding to a “disturbance call.”
“All of these shootings obviously are horrific, and they’re all tragic,” the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, said at the news conference on Tuesday, vowing to hire more police officers and work with federal and state authorities to rein in crime in Portland. “It also traumatizes the entire community.”
The police have said that witnesses had been uncooperative as investigators tried to untangle a “very complicated incident.”
Mr. Wheeler has been criticized for statements he made in April, when he vowed to “unmask” demonstrators who engaged in repeated acts of vandalism or arson, saying it was time to “hurt them a little bit.”
Those comments angered some in the progressive city’s more liberal corners, including activists who said that Mr. Wheeler had put a target on peaceful protesters and had inflamed rhetoric against them.
City leaders “might reflect on how their false demonization of protesters helped to create and fuel the ideas that appear to have led to these victims being shot and killed,” said Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a civil rights group. “They should also consider how their failure to protect protesters from harm by police has contributed to unwillingness to cooperate with police.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Wheeler was asked if he regretted the statements he made in April.
He said that the comments were specifically about people involved in “criminal destruction and violence” who needed to be held accountable.
“The context was very clear in which I used that statement,” he said. “If I regret anything, it’s that I used a statement that could be used out of context for political gain or for purposes that it was not intended.”
Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.
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