PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A day after rioters trashed Portland City Hall and spray-painted threats inside and out, Mayor Ted Wheeler called on the community to “rise up” in support of peaceful assembly and to stand against nightly violence and destruction.
“We—and I put myself at the top of that list as the city’s mayor—we have allowed our proud tradition of progressive protests to be stolen by a few dozen individuals engaged in violence and criminal destruction,” Wheeler said in the virtual press conference. “Their intent on creating mayhem and attacking and harming people, not just property — that’s a line that we can’t allow our community to cross, not anymore. Enough is enough. It’s time to rise up and take immediate steps to repair and beautify our city. But again, I need the help of the entire community.”
The mayor repeated his plea to “rise up” several times and restore Portland’s image as a livable, peaceful and progressive city while prioritizing compassion.
“All violence—including police violence—is not the way to further the goals of our community,” he said, adding that he wants to work with the police on how to best address the issues brought forward by the community and how to hold officers accountable in real-time. Wheeler called on the community to come together and make it clear that “we don’t tolerate violence” to put an end to nightly unrest. He expressed empathy with officers who continue to manage protests but said he wants to work with them on creating a more respectful atmosphere for nonviolent protests while enacting strategies to hold all of those involved in nightly violence accountable.
But while Wheeler mentioned wanting to arrest those involved in violent activities, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt has said his office will not prosecute most cases stemming from the protests. The mayor didn’t elaborate on how he plans to actually curb protest-related crime in light of the DA’s decision but said he’s open to ideas from the police.
Wheeler did, however, speak directly to rioters, saying he wanted to hear from them on what exactly they want and try to reach a common ground.
“What is the landing pad? What are we replacing it with? If we’re talking about total abolition — I don’t think that is a realistic goal,” he said. “But there are many specific ways that I think we can work with the community to get rid of the bias and the institutional racism that still exists in policing nationally and of course locally. And I’m gonna do my part to help with that.”
But he ultimately demanded that those who seek change do so peacefully.
“My message is to be peaceful. We are in a city that respects First Amendment rights. We are in a city of demonstration and counter-demonstration but violence is not helping get the message across — doesn’t get to the broader issues of BLM and now there’s increasing evidence that non-violent demonstrations are more effective. My advice: be peaceful,” the mayor said.
Wheeler called for the cleanup of vandalism to buildings like the Multnomah County Justice Center while protecting and valuing the murals and art created during the Black Lives Matter movement. He also laid out a plan for the coming months and years, starting with a meeting on Wednesday night with the Portland Police Bureau and a meeting Thursday with business owners in the area impacted most by the protests.
“We’re going to work hand-in-hand with local employers to restore their confidence and help to fray the costs of their improvements,” said Wheeler. “And I look forward to announcing several initiatives to addressing the evictions crisis.”
Opposing mayoral candidate Sarah Iananrone released a statement later Wednesday night in which she decried Wheeler’s statement as insufficient.
“”Mayor Wheeler sounds nervous, like a kid who hasn’t done his homework. Tonight he promised to ‘lead better,’ as though we just need to wait for him to get the hang of a job he has held for 43 months. Wheeler has lost the public trust on housing, houselessness, and public safety,” the statement read. “Portland is tired of listening to this man’s hollow words and suffering from his failure to act. The only thing remarkable about this pointless press conference was that he finally admitted that he’s failed so far. Maybe in the next two months he’ll figure it out.”
Between COVID and closures and property destruction from violent protesters, downtown Portland is reeling and some worry it may never recover. Wheeler’s press conference took place about two hours after the FBI met with the media to talk about the ongoing unrest in Portland.
And it came one day after PPB Chief Chuck Lovell held an in-person press conference and explained the bureau’s methods in managing crowds come down to a “risk versus reward question: the interjection of police into that crowd, too, has its own dynamic that we’re really mindful of.”
Tuesday night a riot was declared outside City Hall in downtown Portland after windows were broken and fires were set during the 89th consecutive night of protests against police, systemic racism and other causes. Twenty-three adults were arrested while two juveniles were detained.
The last time Wheeler spoke about the nightly violence was after the East Precinct was barricaded and a fire set with people inside earlier this month. At that time Wheeler said he was ” authorizing the Portland Police Bureau and our affiliatied agencies to do whatever is necessary to safety hold those individuals accountable who are engaged in criminal activity and bring these nightly activities to a close.”
But the nightly protests continue. And Wheeler has been publicly silent until now.
How Tuesday night began
The group’s original target was expected to be a juvenile detention center in Northeast Portland but demonstrators made a last-minute location change. Posts online originally called on people to gather at 8 p.m. at Montavilla Park and included the words, “Keep children out of jail.” Another post suggested the march destination would be the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center, more than a mile away on NE 68th Place.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office announced via Twitter that “the property, including parking lots, is closed to the public. Anyone who enters the property may be subject to arrest.”