PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With more protests on the 55th consecutive night in downtown Portland, Mayor Ted Wheeler appeared before the protesters beginning at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Wheeler showed up at the intersection of SW 3rd and Madison, the area of the Justice Center and the Hatfield Courthouse that has been the main site of the protests for nearly 2 months.
Mayor Ted Wheeler pushed his way through a crush of people shortly after 9 p.m. and made his way to a small media staging area as hundreds of people chanted and screamed for his resignation. Wheeler answered questions from several protesters before moving on to the steps of the Justice Center to listen to speeches.
Before the night was over, Wheeler was hit with tear gas by federal officers.
Wheeler said it was the first time he’d been tear gassed and appeared slightly dazed and coughed as he put on a pair of goggles someone handed him and drank water. He didn’t leave his spot at the front, however, and continued to take gas.
Meeting with protesters
Mayor Wheeler pushed through the crowd as hundreds chanted expletives at him and called for his resignation. He spoke briefly over the crush of chanting, screams of anger and others on bullhorns. He criticized the Trump administration’s suggestion that federal officers will be sent to many U.S. cities, not just Portland, saying the plan is “not an acceptable solution anywhere in America.”
Wheeler said that in response to the Black Lives Matter movement in Portland, the city has “passed historic reforms.”
“I know for many of you, it’s not enough,” he said. “But I will continue to work with my colleagues on City Council.”
“It’s come 40 years too late, it’s come 400 years too late.”
Wheeler said he’s “doing everything in my power to get [federal officers] to leave.” He said the state is “looking at every legal action” in an attempt to get them to leave.
When asked if he plans on turning over control of the Portland Police Bureau to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesy, Wheeler said “not at this time.” He said he does not support the abolishing of the PPB.
The idea for Wheeler to meet with protesters was pitched to Portland’s policing and political leadership in a Portland Tribune editorial that appeared online on Sunday, July 19. Shortly after it appeared, Wheeler contacted the Tribune publisher and agreed to make it happen.
The editorial said that the presence of federal authorities in Portland has made the last two weeks more dangerous. But before they arrived, the nightly clashes between protesters and police had gone on for nearly 50 days and needed to come to an end. The editorial called on the mayor and other leaders to come up with a plan, which should begin by listening to protesters.
Not the first time Wheeler has met and talked with protesters
On June 5, Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty each addressed the protesters in what was a largely peaceful demonstration in the weeks following the death of George Floyd until late that night.
Wheeler stood at the Promised Land Statue with organizers in front of the crowd. He first listened to an organizer speak about the lack of funding and access Black children have available to them in North Portland public schools.
He used a megaphone and promised the crowd the City of Portland would push the state for more funding for education. “And we will focus those resources on communities that have been disproportionately impacted by negative educational outcomes.”
The protests now are largely focused on the federal officers. sent to Portland by President Trump. On Wednesday, Trump unveiled “Operation Legend” and will deploy federal officers to other cities, including Chicago.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley told KOIN 6 News on Wednesday that Trump is “trying to create riots across America through secret police tactics as a campaign strategy.”
“He’s trying to create riots across America through secret police tactics as a campaign strategy. And I want all of America to understand what he’s up to. It’s absolutely unacceptable and we the people, as a democratic republic, have to stand together, every citizen, for the civil rights of all,” Merkley told KOIN 6 News.