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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the hands-off approach used by police was clearly the wrong strategy.

SCREENSHOT - Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler addressed the battle of Kmart on Aug. 22 more than two weeks later during a city council session Sept. 8. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a mea culpa of sorts — if not an outright apology — for a hands-off approach that let street clashes play out for hours between the left and right last month.

In his first on-camera comments in the 17 days since the "Battle of Kmart" pitted left-wing black-clad figures known as antifa against the right-wing, black-and-yellow striped Proud Boys, Mayor Wheeler said he "took full responsibility."

"We did our best," Wheeler said during the Sept. 8 City Council morning session, "but it is clear… that that strategy was not the right strategy."

"We're still trying to find the right recipe," the mayor added. "I think we can all acknowledge that I take full responsibility for it."

Portland Police Bureau officers never responded to the fusillade of fireworks, chemical spray, paintball weapons, and fist-to-fist combat that happened as traffic flowed undiverted along the busy four-lane stretch of Northeast 122nd Avenue adjacent to the Proud Boy rally that occurred in the parking lot of the former Kmart store.

Authorities have since released photos — mostly screengrabs from publicly available videos — of more than a dozen people on both sides who are suspected of committing criminal activity.

But the actual fighting, which eventually spilled over into the nearby parking lot of Parkrose High School, was left to end on its own.

"The public doesn't want an overwhelming police presence," said Wheeler, noting that a police presence can escalate tensions and lead to officer injuries.

On the contrary, the numerous officers who posted up at entrances to Delta Park ahead of a nationwide gathering of Proud Boys last year did appear to calm the waters, with only small-scale scuffles breaking out, some involving independent journalists deemed "antifa press" by the Proud Boys. Police also separated left- and right-wing crowds in 2019, leading to long stand-offs and some injuries as projectiles were hurled toward lines of police who dispersed left-wing groups with bullrush charges.

Wheeler said the Proud Boys come to Portland "because they know they'll get a response, and they do."

Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, argued that authorities only had two hours of confirmation that the Proud Boy gathering had been relocated from its planned rallying point downtown to the Argay Terrace neighborhood.

"It gave people the opportunity to say that I didn't care about poor people, that I didn't care about people on the east side of the river," said Wheeler. "We did make notifications" to the school district and nearby nonprofits.

After the discussion of Aug. 22, Wheeler and the rest of the Council unanimously approved a payment of $50,000 to Michelle Fawcett, who had filed a $250,000 lawsuit alleging she was "permanently disfigured" after being struck by a police flash-bang that scarred her arm during a protest on Aug. 4, 2018.

"I want to take a moment to apologize on behalf of the city for the injury that was done," said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. "I know $50,000 will not make this individual whole again."

A proposed boycott that would prevent the city government from doing business with Texas companies, which The Oregonian reports could cost the Lone Star State some $7 million a year, was pulled from the agenda.


Zane Sparling
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