Did ICE protest matter? 'Absolutely' says Mayor Wheeler
So clean you could eat off the ground.
That was Mayor Ted Wheeler's description of the former site of the Occupy ICE camp — now scraped clean of detritus after a five-week protest outside the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Southwest Portland ended peacefully.
Local authorities posted eviction notices about 24 hours before the sweep began at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 25. By that time just a dozen demonstrators remained on the site where several hundred once slept. Police said no arrests were made.
Representatives of the news media peppered the mayor with questions about the vanquished encampment during a Friday, July 27 news conference at City Hall. Several journalists asked why Wheeler ordered the $12,000 clean-up while still allowing right-wing protesters to hold rowdy marches along downtown streets.
Wheeler acknowledged that the gatherings have become "organized street brawls," but said the city's role is to allow everyone the ability to express their first amendment rights safely.
"The Portland Police Bureau does not get to pick ideological sides," he responded. "I've told you my particular objection to the Trump Administration policy, and it is a strenuous objection."
Wheeler also said he has no plans to pull Portland's participation from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, alluding to the threat of white-power domestic terrorism in the Rose City and noting that "the work of the JTTF happens whether we're apart of it or not."
He said he expects the City Council to revisit the issue in 2019.
Wheeler dodged a question about whether he supports calls to abolish ICE, saying he wants immigration reform but doesn't know enough about the agency's other responsibilities. When asked if he believed protesters had "accomplished" anything, his reply was unequivocal.
"The answer in my mind is absolutely," Wheeler said. "There's no question the president changed his mind when he saw people around the nation were very, very upset."
Overall, Wheeler appeared pleased by the drama-free disassembly of the tents, portable toilets, couches, canopies, wooden barricades and miscellaneous flotsam that comprised the Occupy ICE outpost.
Flanked by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, he announced the decision to clear the camp on July 23, calling it "unsustainable" due to safety and sanitation issues. Prior to his decision, a faction dubbed #AbolishICE said it would leave the camp because occupation was "a tactic and not a strategy."
"With humility, we acknowledge that this fight has been fought long before us, and we have much to learn," the group said in an email. "This move will decentralize the movement and allow it to exist indefinitely."
Wheeler kept the Portland Police Bureau away from the camp for most of its short shelf life — a decision that prompted the Federal Protective Service to patrol the property and block all traffic on Southwest Bancroft Street, which was technically outside their jurisdiction.
Wheeler said that caused cancer patients to voice their concerns about driving to Oregon Health & Science University's riverfront hospital campus. Yet it was the closure of the ICE-adjacent Happy Camper coffee cart that grabbed more headlines, especially after the nonprofit's owners said protesters' harassment of customers forced them to go out of business.
Occupation leadership later circulated screenshots showing that the coffee cart had been listed as for sale on social media since June 14, three days before the protest began.
The news conference at City Hall may become a tradition of sorts, as city staffers have promised access-hungry journalists monthly opportunities to lob questions on all topics at the mayor. Additionally, a third-floor space will now serve as a pressroom for credentialed media.
The change comes as the mayor's former spokesman, Michael Cox, is elevated to chief of staff. Sophia June has been named the communications coordinator.
"This is a bit of an experiment," Wheeler said at the start of the well-attended meeting, sipping from a coffee cup emblazoned "The Rooster Personality."
"My expectation and hope is that over time this actually becomes more of an in-depth and meaningful policy conversation."