Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw held a 20-minute press conference to defend her officers and call for policy changes, following raucous protests on Saturday that have drawn criticism from national media and public figures.
Her appearance Wednesday follows a deluge of complaining phone calls fielded by city staff as well as a bomb hoax that forced the evacuation of City Hall.
Many of the complaints came in response to a viral video of activist and writer Andy Ngo being punched and kicked by multiple demonstrators. The melee on Saturday was the latest round in a repeated event in downtown Portland, pitting antifascist activists against groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, which often attract white supremacists to their gatherings.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, with a tweet Sunday that said, “To federal law enforcement: investigate & bring legal action against a Mayor who has, for political reasons, ordered his police officers to let citizens be attacked by domestic terrorists.”
Wheeler fired back to Cruz: “get your facts straight.”
Dear @TedCruz,— Mayor Ted Wheeler (@tedwheeler) July 2, 2019
At least get your facts straight. I ordered no such thing.
Could you divert some of those investigation dollars to something that would actually benefit American cities? Infrastructure, affordable housing, mental health services come to mind. https://t.co/btI14p8fkJ
Cruz isn’t the only national figure to lambaste Portland this week. Donald Trump Jr. alleged mainstream media outlets were biased against Ngo and favored antifa protesters.
“No responsible journalist would support a domestic terrorist organization that assaults the members of the press, yet here we are again with another clear example of the liberal media’s complicity in Antifa violence,” Trump Jr. wrote in an opinion article for Daily Caller.
It’s against that national tumult leading up to the July Fourth holiday that Outlaw tried to defend her officers and her boss, Wheeler. She started her remarks by rejecting the suggestion that Wheeler or anyone told her to keep officers away from the violent clashes.
“The officers have been called ‘cowards’ or there’s a perception that they ‘ran away’ from confrontation, and that couldn’t be the furthest from the truth,” Outlaw said.
But Outlaw said the “rules of engagement” dictate that any intervention should be done carefully, to protect the safety of demonstrators as well as officers. Throughout her remarks she called for more "resources," including officers and support from partner law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, Outlaw called for policy changes in the future to better plan for and respond to demonstrations that turn violent, and to align their approaches to what the public expects.
For instance, Outlaw said her officers are often criticized for having video recordings of one set of protesters, but not of the other. She said that’s because the state of Oregon has tight limits on when officers can videotape people.
“We can’t constantly record like the public does,” Outlaw said. “We’re only allowed to actually record when we believe there’s criminal activity that occurs. It’s not like that in other places,” she said.
The Portland chief also favored a change to state law that could make it easier to catch protesters who wear masks and commit crimes such as assault at demonstrations.
“In other states, you’ll see where it’s illegal to wear a mask in the commission of a crime,” Outlaw said. She added that banning masks could keep people from being emboldened to commit crimes.
Outlaw spoke in support of people expressing their constitutionally protected views, but said she opposed “allow[ing] people to use the guise of free speech to commit crime.”
“Meaning: I’m out here saying what it is, what I’m constitutionally allowed to say, but I’m committing an act of violence in the meantime, and I’m going to do it knowing that I can completely cover my identity, by remaining anonymous, making it harder for [police] to identify you as it’s occurring, or even after the fact,” Outlaw said.
And the police chief suggested Portland should take another look at an ordinance Wheeler failed to get through City Council last fall. It would have regulated the "time, place and manner" of protest activity.
Finally, Outlaw called for more community condemnation of the actions of protest groups intent on fighting in Portland streets. Outlaw contended that debate of the police tactics and messaging are a “shiny object” that distract from what she considered the bigger issue of planned violence in the city.
“Entities came here to fight. If they asked me, ‘There was a protest on Saturday, what were they protesting about?’” Outlaw told reporters. “I couldn’t even tell you. I don’t know what they were protesting against. Because they came to fight.”