Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler backpedaled Wednesday from the high praise he previously heaped on police for taking a hands-off approach during a violent political skirmish last month.
“It is clear based on the public outcry, on the media outcry, on the national front, that that strategy was not the right strategy,” said Wheeler during a City Council meeting. “I take full responsibility for it.”
The about-face by the mayor, who serves as police commissioner, came nearly three weeks after a sprawling, bloody street brawl between far-right activists and self-described anti-fascist protesters on Aug. 22 erupted in Northeast Portland’s racially diverse Parkrose neighborhood.
The vicious combat, which included participants using bats, bear spray and paintball guns against each other, at one point spilled onto the grounds of Parkrose High along 122nd Avenue. Officers watched from a distance and did not wade into the fray.
Hours later, after the face-off had moved to downtown Portland, police intervened for the first time following an exchange of bullets — not far from an electronic city road sign that declared, “Hate Has No Place Here.”
The suspected shooters appeared to be affiliated with the rival groups and police arrested one of the gunmen.
A day after the melee, Wheeler said he believed the announcements he, the police chief and other officials made prior to the events that decried hate and warned that police wouldn’t get between opposing factions were a rousing success.
“The community at large was not harmed and the broader public was protected,” the mayor said. “Property damage was minimal.’’
His remarks drew immediate condemnation and Wheeler had not issued additional comment publicly until Wednesday.
“We did our best,” he said. “We’re still trying to find the right recipe.”
— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
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