Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Thursday urged non-violent protesters to either avoid city gatherings where violence is likely to occur, intervene if they see it or risk being used as a “prop” in national advertisements to aid President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Wheeler, who is also the city’s police commissioner, said he was authorizing Portland officers and as well as county and state law enforcement agencies aiding in policing demonstrations to “do whatever is necessary to safely hold these individuals accountable who are engaged in criminal activity and bring these nightly activities to a close.” He didn’t elaborate on what that meant.

The mayor spoke during a news conference with Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, Capt. Tony Passadore and Portland Fire and Rescue Lt. Damon Simmons, who all denounced destructive actions of some protesters over the course of the last two months of demonstrations.

The officials particularly keyed in on a gathering in East Portland on Wednesday where Portland police declared the event a riot and used tear gas after protesters marched to the police precinct, spray painted security cameras and a glass door in front of the building, tore plywood off some of the windows, cracked glass doors, lit contents inside a garbage can on fire and placed it and plywood in front of an entrance and used dumpsters to block a nearby road.

The mayor, police and fire officials said they supported the Black Lives Matter movement and peaceful protest, but demonstrators appeared to be trying to commit arson Wednesday, intentionally trapped more than 20 police staff who were in the building at the time and said nearby homes could have also been at risk of catching fire. Lovell called it a “coordinated attack” and Wheeler equated the actions to “attempting to commit murder”. They denounced other destructive demonstrations that have occurred as well.

“If you are a nonviolent demonstrator and you don’t want to be part of intentional violence, please stay away from these areas,” Wheeler said. “Our community must say that this violence is not Portland, that these actions do not reflect our values and these crimes are distracting from reform, not advancing.”

The fire in front of the Portland Police east precinct building was contained in the metal garbage can but charred part of a board near the entrance, according to journalists with The Oregonian/OregonLive who were on the ground Wednesday.

The demonstrations are occurring while the city saw more than double the amount of shootings in July than the same time last year and 15 people killed — the most in one month for more than 30 years, according to police. The bureau also reports that shootings overall have been more frequent in 2020 than this time last year.

Wheeler said he planned to announce a “comprehensive plan” to address the spike in shootings next week and that there would be aspects that would involve the police bureau, the city’s office of violence prevention and community members.

In recent days since Oregon State Police took over guarding the federal courthouse, confrontations between police and protesters have shifted from downtown — the historic heart of the demonstrations — to police buildings across the city, where a faction of protesters now gather every night.

Lovell said there were few exits available at the police precinct building, noting a large rolling door that vehicles can pass through as well as a side door, where the trash can was placed. Protesters didn’t group near the rolling door Wednesday.

Passadore, the incident commander for Wednesday’s protest and has overseen the police response for two dozen demonstrations since May, said noted police only responded to protesters in East Portland, not outside the Justice Center downtown.

He said police officers have tried to build relationships with demonstrators, but noted particularly that when they try to speak to them in person at protests, other demonstrators interrupt and try to end the interactions.

“We had police officers out there, who were the best in building the relationships, but members of a different group that are set on different goals disrupted that,” Passadore said. “So we’re still trying to build those relationships and have opportunities to have that type of communication on the lines in those events so we can hear what people have to say and their concerns and we can share in good, healthy dialog.”

Wheeler said Portland officers are “very eager to get off of the front lines” of nightly protests and refocus on reform and reducing gun violence and crime in the city.

— Everton Bailey Jr.


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