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Wheeler: Restrictions needed to prevent political violence
In response to a series of violent political confrontations on Portland streets, Mayor Ted Wheeler has unveiled a proposed ordinance to limit protests by groups with a history of fighting.
Wheeler announced the ordinance during a hastily-called Monday afternoon press conference at City Hall. It took place two days after members of the right wing Patriot Prayer and left wing anti-fascist activist fought with each other Saturday afternoon.
"I will not allow planned street violence to continue in Portland," Wheeler said.
The proposed ordinance would allow the Police Commission to limit the time and length of such events by groups that have clashed in the past. Wheeler is the currently the Police Commissioner. Most mayors have always overseen the police bureau.
The ACLU of Oregon said it has "serious concerns" about the proposed ordinance.
"The proposed ordinance raises many constitutional concerns. The mayor's proposal grants broad authority to the mayor's office to regulate constitutionally-protected speech and assembly with no meaningful oversight for abuse," said Legal Director Mat Dos Santos, who predicted the ordinance itself will result in more protests.
But Wheeler said other cities have similar ordinances, including Seattle, which the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld.
Wheeler cited numerous clashes downtown between Patriot Prayer and "antifa" activists that have taken place since Donald Trump was elected president at the November 2017 general election. Speaking at the press conference, Assistant Police Chief Ryan Lee said that before a scheduled Aug. 4 protest, police seized guns from Pariot Prayer member found on top of a city-owned parking garage.
Patriot Prayer members faced off with counter-protesters on opposite sides of Southwest Naito Parkway during the protest, Lee said no one was arrested and the guns were eventually returned because the owners had valid concealed weapons permits.
"Our concern is preventing potential violence," said Police Chief Danielle Outlaw, who was also with Wheeler at the press conference.
Wheeler's planned ordinance would issue "reasonable time, place and manner restrictions" that would allow protesters to exercise their constitutional rights but give the police commissioner greater tools to keep the peace and protesters separate, said the city attorney.
I was not clear when the ordinance would be introduced at press time. Wheeler said he has "an urgency" to get it passed, but it is currently a draft ordinance being reviewed by attorneys,
"The objective is to reduce street brawls and violence," Wheeler said. "This is not the way we as Americans resolve our disputes...and it gives us more tools to deal with the protests."
Wheeler also said he expects other governments to support the effort.
"We have agreements with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, and we will ask them to help us prevent violence. We will ask prosecutors, and jails to enforce laws against those planning or engaging in violence. And we will ask those with investigatory authority to bring forward a full suite of options for changing the dynamic on our streets," he said.
The recent clashes in Portland have received extension national media coverage, including critical comment on Fox News that Wheeler pushed back against by saying he is not a "nutcase" mayor.
Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson told KOIN 6 News he had mixed feelings about the proposed ordinance.
"If they're going to restrict our rights that is definitely a negative, but some of the positives, if they're actually doing this, (is so) they can actually stop people from breaking the law, then good," said Gibson.
You can read the proposed ordinance here.
To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, go to tinyurl.com/y8wxkt4u.
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