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'Wall of Moms' stand between Portland Black Lives Matter protesters and federal police

“Feds stay clear, moms are here!" protesters chanted outside the federal courthouse in Portland on Sunday.
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Dozens of women wearing yellow linked arms to form a protective "wall of moms" around Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon, on Sunday as the protesters clashed with federal law enforcement.

Video from the scene showed crowds chanting “Feds stay clear, moms are here!" and "Feds go home!" before protesters toppled a fence erected around the federal courthouse. Federal agents fired back with what appeared to be tear gas and flash bangs, the video showed.

Hundreds of people had gathered for the demonstrations, blocking roads, Portland police said in a statement early Monday. They said dozens of others "tampered" with the courthouse fence.

“The crowd was very celebratory when the fence first came down,” freelance journalist Garrison Davis told NBC News by phone after reporting from the rally. “There was a lot of cheering.”

Once the fence was down, police said dozens of people carrying shields, helmets, gas masks, umbrellas, bats and hockey sticks approached the doors of the courthouse before federal law enforcement dispersed the crowd shortly before midnight.

Portland police said none of their officers were present, nor did they engage with the crowds or deploy gas.

The Department of Homeland Security couldn't be immediately reached for comment about the involvement of federal agents in Sunday's events.

In an earlier statement regarding Saturday's protests, the department described the demonstrators as "violent anarchists" who were "assaulting federal officers and damaging federal property."

Portland has seen sustained protests following the killing of George Floyd, the Black man whose death in custody in Minneapolis triggered global demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism.

Tensions have escalated in recent weeks, particularly after one protester was critically injured when an officer with the U.S. Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at his head on July 11.

Sunday's protests began with a rally by a group called Moms Against Police Brutality, said Davis, the freelance journalist. Some members of the group, who are self-described as the Wall of Moms on social media, had been out at protests the previous night as well.

Some of the women were there because their children had been tear-gassed in earlier protests over recent weeks, Davis said.

“There’s definitely some parents and teens out there together,” he said.

The clashes on Sunday followed comments by the city's mayor blaming federal police for "escalating the situation."

"Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism," Mayor Ted Wheeler said on CNN. "They're not wanted here. We haven't asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave."

Image: A man wearing a "NAVY" shirt gestures to a police officer after being sprayed and beaten during a protest against racial inequality in Portland,
A man wearing a "NAVY" shirt gestures to a police officer after being sprayed and beaten during a protest against racial inequality in Portland on Saturday.The Portland Tribune / Reuters

The dispute over the presence of the federal agencies is set to play out in the courts.

On Friday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. She alleged that federal law enforcement officers sent to Portland to suppress protests violated the Constitution by unlawfully detaining and arresting demonstrators without probable cause.

In the lawsuit, Rosenblum has asked for a restraining order to prevent agents with Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Protection Service from making any further arrests.

President Donald Trump defended his administration in a tweet on Sunday saying the government is "trying to help Portland, not hurt it." He also blamed local leadership for having "lost control of the anarchists and agitators."