Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler indicated Wednesday he believed the city’s police force had bungled the response to a violent political protest on Aug. 22 during which far-right and counterdemonstrators brawled in downtown and Northeast Portland without law enforcement intervention.
That police response has been criticized by both activists and elected officials as recklessly hands-off, endangering both protesters and passersby. But the mayor had deemed the approach a success, noting the “community at large was not harmed” and “property damage was minimal.”
During a city council meeting Wednesday, Wheeler, who oversees the police bureau, said he no longer believed the tactic was the correct one.
“It is clear based on the public outcry, on the media outcry, on the national front, that that strategy was not the right strategy. I think we can all acknowledge that,” he said. “I take full responsibility for it.”
The comments came in advance of a vote for a $50,000 settlement related to a lawsuit stemming from a rally held by Patriot Prayer, a Vancouver-based right wing group, on Aug. 4, 2018. Demonstrator Michelle Fawcett alleged she had been injured while counter-protesting after police hurled a flash-bang munition at her with no warning. The council unanimously approved the settlement Wednesday.
For years, the city has struggled to find a way to stop right-wing groups from flooding the city and clashing violently with leftist counter demonstrators. Wheeler said Wednesday he felt the city had become “ground zero for alt-right groups” who “know they’ll get a response.”
Wheeler said Wednesday he had supported the hands-off approach advocated by Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell in advance of last month’s rally. City officials had warned the public that they should not expect to see police intervene. Instead, officials held a press conference imploring the protesters to “choose love.” The event, which included live music and pleas for peace from local business and political leaders, was ridiculed by some as a toothless way to dissuade right wing groups looking for a fight.
“I think you will agree that I was absolutely pilloried nationally for bringing the community together two days prior to basically put the message out that we want people to seek peaceful resolutions to these differences,” said Wheeler.
Soon after far right protesters arrived in Portland, it was clear neither of the two groups planned to heed the mayor’s pleas. Gunfire was exchanged downtown forcing people to hide behind vehicles and the groups brawled openly on Parkrose High School property.
Wheeler said he’s asked the police bureau to provide a “thoughtful, dispassionate analysis” of the bureau’s approach to the demonstrations.
“We’re still trying to find the right recipe,” he said.