Portland mayor wades into angry crowd, gets hit by federal agents' tear gas
Heeding a call to directly address protesters — and to listen — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler did, holding court amid a massive crowd of protesters in downtown Portland Wednesday night.
Before the night was over, Wheeler and hundreds of others were hit with tear gas by federal officers.
Earlier in the night, he faced an angry and often abusive crowd, with people screaming at him and chanting to drown him out.
On the walk from City Hall to Southwest Third and Madison, someone dumped a box of spent munitions at his feet, hitting him in the leg. Someone else surged forward and reached for Wheeler's head, but other protesters intervened.
He waded into the crowd around 9:15 p.m. at the intersection of Third and Madison as hundreds chanted expletives at him and called for his resignation. He took one-on-one questions from people to whom he gave a portable public address system. Only people within a few feet could hear him, despite PA system.
One protester with a skateboard screamed "No dialogue! No dialogue!" when Wheeler took back the mic.
One protester asked, "Will you commit now to abolishing the Police Bureau?"
Wheeler responded, "No, I won't," drawing an uproar of anger from the crowd.
But later, taking the lead of African American activists, Wheeler climbed up on a pedestal in front of the Justice Center and, with a bullhorn, addressed the larger crowd; sometimes drawing boos, sometimes drawing cheers.
He got the biggest applause when he demanded that federal authorities leave town. President Donald Trump ordered federal police into Portland this month to protect federally owned buildings, which significantly increased the violence and unrest in Portland. Trump now is threatening to do the same in other "Democrat-controlled cities."
"The reason I'm here is to stand with you, no matter what," he told the crowd. "If they fire tear gas against you, they'll fire it against me."
About an hour later, that prediction proved accurate.
Wheeler's public appearance at the rally came after the Portland Tribune on Sunday published an editorial calling him and other elected officials to do just that. Wheeler contacted the Tribune the next day and said he would.
Others whom the newspaper called out to address the crowds included Police Chief Chuck Lovell, police union President Daryl Turner, and City Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty, Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly.
None of them appeared with Wheeler on Wednesday night.
Wheeler also said that in response to the Black Lives Matter movement in Portland, the city has "passed historic reforms. … I know for many of you, it's not enough," he said. "But I will continue to work with my colleagues on City Council.
"It's come 40 years too late, it's come 400 years too late."
When asked if there is anything local and state governments can do to stop the federal officers who have been clashing with protesters, Wheeler said, "I think what we're doing tonight is actually the best thing we can do right now. Is be here, be heard, be unified and be clear. We didn't want them, we didn't ask for them, they're not trained for what they're being asked to do. And we want them to leave."
Wheeler also cited the lawsuit by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum against the federal government as actions being taken by state leaders to get federal officers to leave.
"The Tribune called on leaders to show up and listen to the nightly crowd at the justice center," Wheeler said early Wednesday. "I'll be there tonight."
Wheeler was hit with tear gas by federal officers after the listening session. He said it was the first time he'd been tear gassed. He appeared slightly dazed and coughed as he put on a pair of goggles someone handed him and drank water, according to KOIN 6 News. He didn't leave his spot at the front, however, and continued to take gas.
Just before 11 p.m., some people started climbing over the newly erected fence surrounding the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. Others lit fireworks and threw incendiary devices over the fence where they started fires that burned long into the night. Federal officers then started firing tear gas, flash-bang grenades and pepper balls in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Hundreds of people remained outside of the building by midnight, but decreased steadily into the early hours of Thursday morning.
The 55th consecutive night of protests in downtown Portland also had a return appearance from the Wall of Moms and the return of the fence around the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse.
KOIN 6 New, a news partner of the Portland Tribune, contributed to this story. Readers can find their story with video here.
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