Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler held a press conference Monday to once again condemn “hateful, intimidating and destructive acts” by protesters in the city. The press conference was the most recent condemnation in a year filled with similar condemnations by Wheeler and community leaders but little in the way of actionable policies.
“We want you to know that we’re aligning our resources, we’re revising our tactics, and we’re fighting back with everything that we’ve got,” Wheeler said.
The mayor did not announce new policies or initiatives at the press conference, but he did say he supported the selective use of a controversial police tactic called kettling, where law enforcement surrounds and detains a large group of protesters.
Portland police kettled a group of about 100 people Friday night. The city faced two lawsuits in 2017 after police kettled almost 400 protesters, but federal courts dismissed those cases in part because a judge found protesters were unlikely to be “realistically threatened with a mass detention or kettling again in the future.” To support that assertion in her December 2020 decision, magistrate judge Jolie Russo noted that PPB had not used the tactic during months of protests last year.
Wheeler, Portland police Deputy Chief Chris Davis, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese and Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Scott Asphaug repeated assertions that have been made about racial justice protesters in the city since demonstrations began at the end of May.
“The community at large has already figured out that this has nothing to do with (Black Lives Matter) or any other noble causes,” Wheeler said. “This is just about people getting together to break stuff.”
The statement is nearly identical to what he said at a June press conference at the police bureau’s North Precinct, roughly a month into a massive racial justice uprising in the city that saw thousands of people take to the streets to demand accountability for racist policing.
“Last night was plainly and simply about arson,” Wheeler said at the time. “It was about destruction. It was about endangering lives. It’s blatant criminal violence.”
Davis said the group detained Friday night was not a protest group, and Asphaug said the protests have been hijacked by agitators, a claim with a checkered history of use against racial justice protesters by the Department of Justice.
Former State Sens. Margaret Carter and Avel Gordly, both trailblazing Black women in Oregon state politics, also implored demonstrators to know their history and listen to their elders.
“I’m asking you as protesters and marchers to hear the words of those who have come before you on this journey of marching and protesting for justice,” said Carter, the first Black woman elected to the Oregon state Legislature. “We never destroyed property. It was always a peaceful march.”
Forcefully putting her weight behind Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, Gordly said she supports the Interfaith Peace and Action Collaborative’s recent proposal to create a patrol unit in PPB dedicated to gun violence reduction.
“Speaking as an elder and lifelong Portlander of 74 years, all the violence, the gun play, the anarchist behavior and lawlessness in our streets is disturbing everyone’s peace,” said Gordly, the first Black woman elected to the state Senate. “The misguided and uneducated anarchists reject civility and instead intentionally create mayhem through criminally destructive behavior, tearing up our city, and this must stop.”
As in previous press conferences condemning protesters who engage in property damage, the community leaders asked to speak at Monday’s press conference were from an older generation of activists, steeped in the nonviolent traditions of the 1960s civil rights movement, but with less credibility among activists on the streets today.
“They’re trying to gloss over and rebrand the issue as opposed to actually fixing it,” said Mac Smiff, a Portland based activist and editor-in-chief of We Out Here magazine. “Until they actually fix the issues, they can’t just stick a new coat of paint on it because people are gonna come tear it off.”
While Wheeler said the militantly anonymous, black bloc protesters – demonstrators who wear all black clothing to protect from being identified by law enforcement – have refused offers to speak with him, Smiff said he’s always available if the mayor wants to listen instead of finding a way to return to the days of a compliant Black population.
“You don’t have to always sit down and talk to people to understand what they’re saying,” Smiff said. “People are chanting and holding signs and saying things on microphones and giving speeches. If you just pay attention it’s not hard to find out what’s going on and what people want.”