Protest: Portland Police, mayor seemed to get this one right
Mayor Ted Wheeler, Police Chief Danielle Outlaw and the Portland Police Bureau have taken shots from the left, the right and even from the White House about the handling of past skirmishes between far-right and far-left protesters in the Rose City.
But early accounts indicate that the police strategy for the protest on Saturday, Aug. 17, was successful and should be applauded.
A little background: Far-right groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys had announced a major protest in Portland's Waterfront Park. People of that ilk were coming from all over the country and were grumbling threats of violence against the left.
That was red meat for the anti-fascist forces that sometimes go by the handle "antifa." They planned to be there as well and vowed that violence would ensue.
Before the gangs gathered, police had closed off the Hawthorne Bridge to all traffic and pedestrians.
Once the crowds had gathered, and as the shoving and shouting began, police reopened the Hawthorne Bridge and allowed the far-right protesters to cross to the eastside.
Then they closed the bridge again; effectively separating the hooligans by the width of the Willamette River.
We don't yet know if that tactic came out of the Portland Police playbook, if they smartly improvised or if they got lucky, but the much-anticipated brawl in the streets never happened. Only about 13 people in total were arrested as of mid-afternoon Saturday. A few fistfights broke out. A few people got shoved around. One person was taken away by ambulance, handcuffed and bleeding from the head.
But by and large, the mass violence that we'd feared did not occur and, at one point, there was even some needed comic relief.
Around noon, the far-right contingent marched west over the Tilikum Crossing Bridge to get back to downtown. At the same time, the far-left gangs marched east over the Burnside Bridge to get to the Proud Boys. And members of the Portland media, out en masse, poked fun at them both.
And let that be the lasting note for this protest: A pox on both your houses. Portlanders won't let the radical right or the radical left own this city. Most of us find these nuts to be feckless fools whose major accomplishment is getting on YouTube to impress their buddies.
A word to the violent actors on all sides: Please go away now. Portland doesn't care about you. Portland isn't impressed by you. No one here thinks you're important. Please grab a Voodoo Doughnut on your way out the door, thanks for dropping by, see you never.
Obviously, we're not talking about the peaceful protesters — like the anti-fascists who dressed up as bananas to perform during the melee. Nonviolent exercise of speech and assembly is the most American form of communication. We refer only to those who show up, from the right or the left, with the intent to commit violence.
On a more serious note, several downtown businesses — such as Banana Republic, Southpark Seafood and Maya's Taqueria — were closed for the day in anticipation of smashed windows and other forms of vandalism. We saw acts like that during other downtown protests but no such reports this time. That's good, but we feel bad for the businesspeople and the employees who thought it necessary to take such steps in the name of safety.
Smashing a window doesn't protest fascism and it doesn't project strength. Smashing windows makes you a twerp. Let's hope we've seen the last of such actions at protests.
Also: President Trump made an effort to inject himself into Portland's affairs. Around 7 a.m. Saturday, he tweeted: "Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an 'ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.' Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!"
The president tweeted nothing about Patriot Prayer, the Proud Boys or any of the far-right factions. Readers should make of that what they wish.
Mayor Wheeler was asked about the tweet on CNN and did not take the bait: "I'm not concerning myself with tweets coming out of Washington, D.C., and frankly, it's not helpful. This is a potentially dangerous and volatile situation."
A reasonable and measured response. Good for you, Mr. Mayor.
In the days to come, the police will conduct an "after action" analysis of the protest. The media will ask a lot of questions and we will learn more. But for now, it appears as if a potentially catastrophic protest was averted due to good police work.
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