Wheeler calls attempted autonomous zone a ‘distraction’

2020 Protests

Wheeler spoke before assisting in the cleanup efforts in the Pearl District

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler stepped out of his Pearl District residence on Thursday morning after protesters were cleared out of an attempted “autonomous zone.”

Portland police declared a civil disturbance and unlawful assembly at 5:30 a.m., as demonstrators from the 20th night of Portland protests continued to gather in the Pearl District in an effort to set up an autonomous zone outside Wheeler’s residence. Northwest 11th Street east to Northwest Park Avenue and Northwest Irving Street south to Northwest Everett Street was closed as protesters cleared out and clean up was underway.

Protesters cleared from ‘Autonomous Zone’ in Pearl District
Marches, makeshift ‘autonomous zone’ during 20th night

At about 7 a.m., Mayor Wheeler stepped outside to speak with media and help with the cleanup efforts. When asked for his thoughts on the attempted autonomous zone, Wheeler left no question as to where he stands on the issue — telling reporters he is “unimpressed” by the scene in Seattle.

Q&A: What’s next for Seattle protesters’ ‘autonomous zone’?

“I do not want an autonomous zone set up in Portland,” he said. “I want to state unequivocally — I absolutely do not support that, and I do believe it’s a distraction from the larger movement, which is to support and uplift black voices in our community.”

Wheeler cited stories coming out of Seattle’s autonomous zone, telling reporters he’s heard of armed people walking around, people being asked to show papers and demonstrate where they’re from and local businesses being shaken down.

“I believe fundamentally this isn’t going to be solved by just the police alone, it’s not going to be solved by me alone,” Wheeler said. “Today the conversations we’re having are with faith leaders, with community leaders, with others in the community who stand with protesters and support their right to peacefully demonstrate and express viewpoints regarding the murder of George Floyd, demands for racial equality, demands for dismantling systemic racism in our community — but do it in a way that’s nonviolent.

“Anything that starts to move towards the violent end of the spectrum is really a distraction.”

Anna Blackwell, who lives nearby in the Pearl District, said she heard “noise and chanting” until about 5 a.m.

“We got up at 8 a.m. for a dog walk and I have to say everything is cleared out and it kind of felt like nothing happened,” Blackwell said. “Other than the porta-potty being stolen nothing was violent. We didn’t see any police cars either. What we saw from our balcony, it looked pretty peaceful.”

She told KOIN 6 News she doesn’t have any problem with people speaking their minds.

“I think if they probably tried to break it up earlier nothng good would have come with it.”

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