Wheeler bans tear gas at protests
Mayor Ted Wheeler took a second step to restrict police responses to protests Thursday, Sept. 10, by banning the use of tear gas.
On Wednesday, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Wheeler had placed three officers on administrative duty while they are investigated for misconduct at protests under a directive adopted last week.
Protesters and other critics have pressed for banning tear gas and disciplining officers they say use excessive force against demonstrators for months. They say tear gas has health side effects and has been widely used when not necessary. And they claim officers have been targeting protesters, volunteer medics and journalists who have not broken the law.
"It's time for everyone to reduce the violence in our community. We all want change. We all have the opportunity and obligation to create change. We all want to focus on the fundamental issue at hand — justice for Black people and all people of color," Wheeler said in the Sept. 10 announcement.
"That's why, as Police Commissioner, effective immediately and until further notice, I am directing the Portland Police to end the use of CS gas for crowd control," he continued.
Wheeler said an alternative to tear gas needs to be developed when lives and public safety are endangered, however.
"During the last hundred days, Portland, Multnomah County and State Police have all relied on CS gas where there is a threat to life safety. We need something different. We need it now," Wheeler said.
A spokesperson for Wheeler's office clarified that police will still be authorized to use pepper spray, flash bangs and other munitions during protests.
The Portland Police Bureau issued a statement after Wheeler's announcement warning that more physical force may now be necessary to disperse dangerous crowds.
"Removing tools without well-vetted alternatives, with policies and training in place prior to their use, places police and community members at risk. No one has presented a solution of how officers can stop a rioting group who are threatening the lives of those present, especially given that in most of these cases, officers are clearly outnumbered, sometimes by hundreds," the bureau said in a Thursday afternoon statement.
According to the OPB story, "In recent weeks, the mayor has said he, too, is concerned the accountability process for police takes too long. Investigations by the Independent Police Review, the city agency responsible for digging into allegations of police misconduct, can drag on for months before there's a decision. In a press conference on Aug. 26, Wheeler said he wanted to meet with the police bureau to find a way to hold officers at protests 'accountable in real time.'"
Wheeler also denounced the ongoing violence at the protests, however, saying, "Arson, vandalism, and violence are not going to drive change in this community. I expect the police to arrest people who engage in criminal acts. I expect the District Attorney to prosecute those who commit criminal acts. And I expect the rest of the criminal justice system to hold those individuals accountable. We must stand together as a community against violence and for progress.
"I call on everyone to step up and tamp down the violence. I'm acting. It's time for others to join me."
Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. Their full story can be found here.
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