As Portland’s protests against police violence grab national attention, Mayor Ted Wheeler issued his strongest condemnation yet of the presence of federal troops, painting their deployment as part of an ill-conceived strategy by the White House to bolster the president’s “sagging polling data.”
“Over the past week, President Trump has used our city as a staging ground to further his political agenda, igniting his base to cause further divisiveness,” Wheeler said during a Friday afternoon press conference. “Mr. President, federal agencies should never be used as your own personal army.”
The remarks followed an onslaught of condemnation from local and national leaders after OPB reported that federal agents had been snatching protesters and detaining them in unmarked vehicles. The revelation has helped bring a national spotlight on the presence of federal law enforcement who were ostensibly dispatched to guard federal property in downtown Portland.
Wheeler's remarks were a stronger rebuke of the federal government than the mayor had made Monday after federal agents had severely injured a protester over the weekend by shooting him in the face with a "less lethal" munition. During that press conference, the mayor had refrained from mentioning Trump and said he had no issue with federal officers' presence in Portland, so long as they remained inside the building.
On Friday, Wheeler struck a stronger tone, saying Trump had a choice: keep troops in the federal buildings or send them home.
While national attention Friday has been on the tactics of federal agents, many have decried the conduct of local police since nightly protests began nearly two months ago. Wheeler acknowledged that the bureau has at times misstepped, but said the city had a system in place to remedy these wrongs.
“When it comes to the tactics of the Portland Police Bureau, look, over last seven weeks have mistakes been made? Absolutely,” he said Friday. “But in the city of Portland, we have a process for accountability, for investigation, for follow-up. It’s transparent.”
The mayor has been one of many to critique the city’s system for police accountability for lack of teeth. But during Friday’s conference, Wheeler painted lack of accountability with the federal officers as a much bigger problem.
“We have Donald Trump sending troops into our streets who are not accountable to me or to the City Council or to the public at large, we don't know what they are doing or why they are doing it,” he said.
The mayor added that he felt the presence of the federal officers had added fuel to the protests around the Multnomah County Justice Center, which he said had dwindled in recent weeks.
“They blew the whole thing back up again,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly had said she too thought the federal presence could galvanize protesters. However, she also said it could have the opposite effect, and discourage peaceful protest against police violence.
“It's also going to discourage people from engaging in protest, which I think is really unfortunate personally, because again, it's our constitutional right to gather, to exercise our freedom of speech to petition our government,” Eudaly said.
Eudaly also worried that the presence of federal officers — and the national attention it’s bringing with it — is broadcasting an inaccurate image of what Portland is actually like.
“People think that our entire city is on fire, 90 percent of Portlanders are violent anarchists and this is necessary action by the federal government to get things under control,” she said. “And that’s just a warped perception of reality. ”
That image is being bolstered by top federal officials. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf issued a long statement Thursday in which he painted a picture of a city under siege with “lawless anarchists” intent on destroying federal property.