Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler at a Friday protest hinted at a possible ban on the Portland Police Bureau’s use of tear gas. But he walked back on that Saturday, issuing a statement saying he has directed police to only use the gas if there is no other alternative.
“Our community has serious concerns about the use of CS gas for crowd management, particularly during a time when we’re battling a pandemic,” Wheeler said in his statement. “Today, I directed Portland Police Chief Jami Resch that gas should not be used unless there is a serious and immediate threat to life safety, and there is no other viable alternative for dispersal.”
He continued: “I strongly believe that gas should not be used to disperse crowds of non-violent protestors or for general crowd management purposes. It should only be used in response to violence that threatens life safety. My priority and focus are to protect the lives of demonstrators, our first responders, and the people in custody at the Justice Center.”
People in Portland, and across the country, have taken to the streets every night for more than a week, protesting the killing of George Floyd – a Black man suffocated under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Many nighttime demonstrations in Portland have ended in the usage of tear gas and other dispersal tactics by the Portland Police Bureau, including Friday’s protest.
Wheeler met with a group of protesters Friday evening, and spoke about how Seattle has banned the use of tear gas for a month.
“We should do the same, tomorrow, my colleagues and I will be making an announcement,” Wheeler said at the time.
Earlier Friday evening, the advocacy group Don’t Shoot Portland filed a class action lawsuit against the city for “indiscriminate use” of tear gas during protests.
Hours later the same night, some demonstrators threw objects at police officers, including water bottles and bananas, and knocked over a fence surrounding the Multnomah County Justice Center.
The Portland Police Bureau said in a statement that rocks and bricks had also been thrown.
Officers responded with violence, using a barrage of tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades.
Wheeler said he is “confident that the Portland Police officers, Multnomah County Sheriff deputies and Oregon State Police troopers on the ground will continue to acknowledge the voice of protesters in a way that reflects the professionalism that is expected and is a core value of our police force, as well as the law enforcement agencies supporting them.”