Wheeler: 'Change isn't just coming - it is finally here now.'
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler praised peaceful demonstrators Wednesday after a fifth night of large protests over the death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Speaking at a morning press conference, Wheeler also said Portland police are doing everything they can to keep people safe while also dealing with a small goup of protesters intent on causing violence.
"Our officers are doing everything they can within our power to respect and protect peaceful demonstrators, but they have another job and that job is to make sure that lives are safe public safety is protected. That's why we cannot tolerate violence," Wheeler said. "It's our duty to protect Portland, including the 10,000 people who showed up last night to make this city a more equitable and more just place.
"I've said this before and I'll say it again until i reach every single Portlander: keep holding us accountable — all of us. I want to be held accountable. That is the core of our democracy. I want you to know I continue to keep holding myself accountable as mayor. But remember — while you're doing this, I am your ally. I believe injustice and reform. and I believe in our peaceful demonstrators and their calls for reform."
Wheeler went into detail on the various steps he plans to take in order to make changes aligning with the values of the community.
"I've been out in the community talking to community demonstrators, community leaders, activists and others about what we can do right now," he said. "We will push for even more changes in state law this summer — some bills are already in the works like the one I support on making sure officers who are discipled for wrongful behavior don't get let off the hook. We will also accelerate the conversation on taking a hard look at our speciality units within the Portland Police Bureau. We'll review our training of police officers to ensure their training aligns with the community's values. We'll continue to hold the painful but necessary convos with the community about the history that brought us to this place and discuss solutions that allows us to begin to heal. That is a start.
"Change isn't just coming — it is finally here now."
Police Chief Jami Resch took the podium to detail what she saw overnight as the peaceful protests turned unruly due to a number of rioters.
"I want to recognize the thousands of demonstrators who came downtown in a peaceful manner and exercised their first amendment rights," Resch said. "There are many thousands of you that are not involved in violence and destruction and I thank you. I still hear your message and know those who are engaging in criminal acts do not represent you."
She went on to say fireworks, ball bearings and projectiles were thrown at officers. She also addressed how police are marking vehicles during these protests.
"For the past several days we have observed vehicles in the crowd. Some of the occupants of those vehicles have been engaged in activities, suppling weapons and other items to protesters. We have attempted to stop these vehicles in the past couple days and they have fled. This places protesters in and police in extreme danger.
They've deployed strategies including stop sticks in some instances and also marking as a way to identify these vehicles and stop them at a later time. She said they saw this as the least intrusive option.
"We are at a critical time in our city and in our nation," she said. "We have to collectively come together to prevent and stop those who are holding our city with violence."
From there, Chief Resch addressed concerns over videos circulating on social media.
"Every use of force by a Portland Police Bureau member is documented and investigated. If any actions are found to be out of policy, those actions will be addressed," Resch said. "I will net let the actions of a few individuals intent on causing violence turn this focus on the Portland Police Bureau.
"A group of individuals broke away from a peaceful protest and marched blocks specifically to encounter Portland Police Bureau members at barricades. The PPB did not instigate the violence that began in our city last night."
The protests began on Tuesday with two large groups holding peaceful demonstrations in various parts of Portland. Thousands gathered in Pioneer Courthouse Square while another large crowd marched back and forth across the Burnside Bridge. Hundreds more gathered for a peaceful march earlier in the day in Tualatin.
The previous night's large protest remained peaceful, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler's decision to not impose a curfew Tuesday night, which he announced in his press conference earlier in the day.
Tuesday's peaceful demonstrations lasted for hours until just after 9 p.m. when Portland police said "criminal activity" occurred at Southwest 4th and Taylor. Officers later praised the groups who had remained peaceful all day but said a splinter group in the hundreds tried to tear down boundary fencing protecting the area around the Justice Center.
Around 12:30 a.m., police declared an unlawful assembly as some people lit fireworks and threw objects at officers — to which police began firing tear gas and flash grenades in response. Police said they made over a dozen arrests throughout the night, though the exact number is unclear. Officers say they continued to ask for compliance and thanked those who obeyed requests to leave the area.
At one point overnight, Resch said one truck attempted to hit officers. Chief Resch says they had to develop tactics to deal with cars and trucks in these instances.
Despite all this — most of the night was largely peaceful as thousands gathered throughout downtown Portland in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
It is extremely important to note that throughout the last few nights in Portland, peaceful demonstrators have made clear that those participating in violence and looting are not associated with their movement. Chief Resch said she understands the majority of people were there to protest peacefully and this small group of violent demonstrators does not represent the whole.
KOIN News 6 is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. You can find their story here.
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