Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler took aim Wednesday at what he called “a few dozen individuals engaged in violence” who he said have allowed the Oregon city to be wrongly portrayed as a “dark dystopia” by President Trump and others.
Mr. Wheeler took some of the blame himself, saying he and other leaders have allowed the city’s reputation for protest to be hijacked by rioters bent on violence, swamping what should have been a thoughtful conversation on racial justice and policing.
“They’re intent on creating mayhem and attacking and harming people, not just property,” the mayor said in an online press conference Wednesday night. “That’s a line that we can’t allow our community to cross. Not anymore. Enough is enough.”
The mayor is the latest figure on the left to condemn rioting that has started to dominate the racial justice conversation sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
The final straw appears to have been when rioters brought their violence to his doorstep. After weeks of smashing windows and lighting small fires at police buildings, the federal courthouse and other public offices, protesters marched on Portland’s city hall Tuesday night, breaking in and scrawling graffiti.
Hours later, Mr. Wheeler said it was time to put an end to that side of things.
“Pulling people from their vehicles and beating them in the streets is a horrific, violent crime,” he said, describing an assault caught on video from earlier this month, for which a protester has been arrested.
Mr. Wheeler, who also serves as police commissioner, rejected demands for a $50 million cut to the police budget as a first step to assuage protesters. He said his goal is to rethink policing and to have the broadest conversation possible.
He said he’s been trying to get a sense for the myriad sets of demands from those who are protesting — most of whom are peacefully marching, but several hundred of whom nightly pick targets for mayhem.
“I had a meeting last week where a group of people frankly just shouted expletives at me. That was how they wanted to use their time. I had to end it a little early because my daughter was in the room,” Mr. Wheeler said.
Mr. Trump this week renewed his call for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to request him to deploy the National Guard.
Ms. Brown, on Twitter, said the state’s National Guard is fighting forest fires and said Mr. Trump could better use his time trying to assist the state in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“Oregon isn’t interested in a role in your political theater,” she told the president.
But Ms. Brown, a Democrat, also signaled that she, too, is worried that the protests are beginning to stain Portland and the racial justice debate.
“Let me be clear: It’s time for the violence and vandalism to end so Portland can focus on the important work to be done to achieve real change for racial justice. Those who have committed acts of violence will be held accountable,” she said.
Wednesday night, after Mr. Wheeler held his press conference, was the first night this week that police did not declare a riot.
That doesn’t mean things were calm.
Demonstrators marched on the offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, disabling security cameras, vandalizing the building and pelting federal police with bottles and fist-sized rocks. Demonstrators also tried to blind the officers with lasers.
About 200 people were involved, the Portland Police Bureau said. Seeing the violence, the local officers moved in, declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly — a level below a riot — and pushing the crowd away.
The Portland officers said they, too, were pelted with rocks.
After they’d pushed the crowd away from the ICE building, they disengaged, and the protesters started back toward ICE. Portland police say they moved in to make targeted arrests. One protester used pepper spray on police, and a fire was ignited, police said.
Local police made 11 arrests, including charging one 26-year-old with unlawful use of pepper spray.