Portland mayor apologizes for use of tear gas on protesters
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler took a step toward reconciliation with the protesters who curse him by name — and who have coated the city with spray-paint tags of his less-than-flattering nickname.
"I apologize to those nonviolent demonstrators who were subjected to the use of CS gas or LRAD," Wheeler said, using acronyms for tear gas and sonic weapons. "It should never have happened. I take personal responsibility for it, and I'm sorry."
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler addressed his nickname â€” "Tear Gas Teddy" â€” during a press call today— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) July 30, 2020
Wheeler called it a "mistake" that local police used tear gas against nonviolent protesters:
"It should never have happened, I take personal responsibility for it, and I'm sorry." pic.twitter.com/cV8MMVckcL
Whether those words will satisfy the nightly crowds calling for the resignation of "Tear Gas Teddy" remains to be seen. But as he delivered the remarks Thursday morning, July 30, Wheeler was at pains to differentiate between the local officers under his command and the federal forces guarding the Mark O. Hatfield courthouse.
The mayor highlighted that he ordered the police bureau to not use the high-powered tone function on their amplified sound truck and restricted their use of tear gas to situations in which threats to life safety are occurring on June 5.
A federal judge issued an order further codifying the restrictions on PPB's use of tear gas days later — though demonstrators would later claim that police were simply declaring riots in order to bypass the new rules of engagement.
Wheeler said Portland police had only used tear gas twice during the month of July.
"The federal officers are using CS gas broadly, indiscriminately and nightly, and that is why it is escalating the behavior we are seeing on the streets," Wheeler said. "Tear gas is an ugly substance. It is very hard to use it in a targeted way."
Wheeler's press call came hours before federal officers were scheduled to hand off guard duties to Oregon State Police troopers following a deal brokered by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf.
Though Wolf later signaled that out-of-town officers would not leave the city until he was assured of the safety of the federal facility, Wheeler said he "trusts the governor" to handle the redeployment. Local employees of the Federal Protective Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — who have responded to protests at an ICE facility in Southwest Portland for years — are expected to remain at their posts.
The mayor also said he supports Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's proposal for a new police oversight board replacing the Independent Police Review, which has been referred to the voters for approval.
Wheeler acknowledged that the proposal may face legal challenges, constraints imposed by the city's collective bargaining system and could require new statewide legislation to succeed, but said Hardesty's staff have assured him those problems can be solved.
Asked whether he had considered washing his hands of the police bureau, Wheeler responded with a parallel concern about the influence of arbitrators, who currently have the final say in firing decisions of law enforcement.
He pondered aloud: "If these times call for anything, it calls for us all to take a step back and ask ourselves, 'Are there situations where ceding some power, some influence and some authority could actually be to the benefit of the larger community?'"
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