Salem police chief justifies different treatment for armed civilians downtown during curfew

As protesters left the rally and vigil on Monday, June 1, police were prepared for another night of disturbances. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem police are being accused of favoring armed individuals standing outside of a downtown salon while applying a heavy hand to protesters to enforce the city’s curfew.

As volatile demonstrations across the country have broken out in response to the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd, the city of Salem has enacted curfews to prevent rioting and other disturbances. After three nights of curfews beginning Saturday, the city extended its ban on people being out at night in public through Sunday next week.

Police have the discretion to enforce the curfew and have allowed protests to proceed. They have subsequently arrested protesters and otherwise acted to disperse demonstrators who remained downtown after events ended, typically late at night.

A video that surfaced online on Wednesday has raised concerns that police only enforced the curfew to those protesting police brutality.

“You can see why black people and other minority groups feel that nothing is going to change,” said Brittany Sims of Salem, who has participated in protests.

 Police Chief Jerry Moore late Wednesday night said his agency’s response to curfew violators would “vary…but without favoritism or bias.”

He made the statement in a video posted on social media after his agency said earlier in the day that it would respond to an interview request from Salem Reporter.

During Monday night’s protest, Joe Smothers posted a Facebook live video recording the demonstration. After leaving the protest, Smothers went to Glamour Salon, located at 195 Liberty St. N.E. in downtown. Smothers didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Glamour Salon has drawn headlines after its owner, Lindsey Graham, reopened in May, defying state orders closing salons, barbershops and other businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Graham has attracted supporters as well as critics.

Once protests began last week that started at the Capitol, individuals armed with military-style rifles and body armor have stood guard outside of Glamour Salon. Reports on social media and elsewhere have emerged that armed individuals have stood sentry outside of the salon even after the curfew went into effect.

The video shows an unidentified police officer telling individuals outside the salon that police would begin enforcing the curfew. The officer told them that he had been instructed to “request” that the individuals go inside a business or sit in their vehicles “so we don’t look like we’re playing favorites.”

This video by Joe Smothers captures events on Monday, June 1. HIs recording from outside the Glamour Salon begins at about the 2:50 mark of the video.

He said that they could also be in the city parking structure that houses the salon as well to avoid violating the curfew.

The latest curfew order prohibits travel “travel on any public street, sidewalk, or other public place” between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., with exceptions such as people going to work, seeking medical care and unsheltered individuals.

The chief’s video was published online at 10 p.m. Wednesday, several hours after his agency said Salem Reporter should expect a response to its request for comment.

Moore said in his message that he was responding to Smothers’ video. He said Salem had never before imposed a curfew and his agency for the first time used gas “in a crowd management” environment.

Moore said the officer taped, who he didn’t identify, “had not been fully briefed about enforcement of the curfew before he spoke with the group.” He said the matter had been “discussed with the officer.”

“We are lawfully bound to weigh the severity of the crime against the level of our response,” Moore said. “Lawfully armed individuals violating a curfew does differ in severity from people throwing bricks and bottles.”

The chief said that, “as such our responses will vary accordingly, but without favoritism or bias.”

“We just want people to obey the law and stay safe,” Moore said.

Police have said that while protests have been peaceful, on several nights groups intent on damaging property or confronting law enforcement have stuck around after most people have gone home.

Moore and Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett have described in interviews earlier this week how the curfew is a tool police can use at their discretion to prevent further disturbances. Each denied that the curfew was being selectively enforced and said that police told people outside the salon to leave.

Eugene and Portland have also used curfews to manage protests, which have drawn criticism from civil rights groups for their potential to be enforced selectively.

Jon Jones, an activist who helped organize Tuesday’s demonstration, said that the curfew should be applied equally or not all. He said that the video shows that it’s not and that police are more concerned about optics than equally enforcing the curfew.

In particular, he took issue with the officer telling the people outside of the salon to sit in their cars rather than leave. He said that contrasts sharply with how protesters have seen the curfew enforced.

“They are playing favorites and (the officer) using that term acknowledges they are aware of that,” he said.

Jones said that around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Lt. Treven Upkes, who has been present at protests, calmly and respectfully told him that police would begin enforcing the curfew at 11 p.m. and that protesters needed to be completely gone by then or face arrest.

By around 10:55 p.m. police in riot gear were on the scene despite the protest proceeding peacefully, said Jones.

Jones said that the way the protesters were treated compared to that of the armed individuals outside of the salon “derails and diminishes” recent efforts by Salem police to improve community relations.

Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore issued a video statement late Wednesday night to address growing community concerns about police treatment of protesters.

Moore acknowledged that in his statement Wednesday night.

“We have not been able to enhance the connections needed to resolve demonstrations peacefully,” Moore said.

Sims said that it was positive that police walked with and stood beside protesters on Monday. But she said that the videos undermine goodwill established by the gesture.

“I felt very uncomfortable and concerned that the police officer told them to hide in their cars because they don’t want to look like we are playing favorites,” she said.

She said she was disturbed at the ease the police officer had talking to the people outside of the salon compared to the forceful response to protesters.

It’s not clear who are the armed individuals who have been standing outside the salon.

On Wednesday, Graham posted an emotional video to Facebook explaining that she found out last week that her salon had become a “direct target” on social media for rioters and looters.

She said insurance doesn’t cover the independent contractors who work at the salon and she issued a “call to arms” asking for people to help protect her business. In response, she said 85 men and women showed up bearing arms to guard her business and others in downtown. She didn’t say when they arrived but that she was surprised at the response.

“I do not know who came,” she said. “I do not know most of them. I could not vet them. I did not do background checks.”

Graham said she’s supportive of the protests. She was “livid” when she learned that some of the guards may be white supremacists and she has been unfairly labeled a racist. She emphatically denounced white supremacists and said she would rather have her “salon burned down and looted instead of being defended by racists.”

 Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.


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