Council rejects Wheeler protest ordinance
The Portland City Council on Wednesday rejected Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed ordinance intended to curb increasing violence during political protests.
The 3-2 vote for now put an end to an idea that would have
given the city greater authority to intervene and regulate the time, place and manner of protests, especially when it comes to ones that did not secure a permit.
Commissioner Nick Fish cast the deciding vote, praising Wheeler's effort to tackle the problem but citing constitutional concerns and expressing hope that opponents of the ordinance would join the city to pursue alternative efforts to combat violence.
The proposed seven-page, 2,500-word ordinance would have allowed the city to take steps to separate groups of protesters with a history of violent clashes.
But when it was introduced last week many, like the ACLU of Oregon, raised constitutional concerns about the proposal. And critics like Commissioner Chloe Eudaly used the idea to grill police on crowd control tactics that, she noted, usually leave left-wing protestes with injuries, rather than the right-wing "white nationalists" who don't align with community values. She reiterated that message Wednesday.
"We need a concerted community effort to shut these right wing extremists down," she said.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz agreed, and criticized a lack of public discussion before the ordinance was introduced. "Arguing about the restrictions in court when they may not even help much on the ground is not a wise use of the taxpayers' money," she said.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, however, credited Wheeler with proposing a concrete step that, he said, would have halted right-wing extremists from "playing us like fiddle." He defended police conduct, saying "they're human" and react to insults and attacks. He noted that it has been 80 years since the November 1938 Kristallnacht events that triggered brutal violence by Nazis against the Jews in Germany.
"It may not be constitutional, but we need to try things," he said, noting that he is not a lawyer. "The current path we're on provides no answers."
Wheeler made the closing arguments on the ordinance, and tried to clarify issues he said had been misinterpreted by opponents or the media. He noted that the U.S. Constitution allows for time, place and manner restrictions on protests.
"Whie we are concerned about the rights of protesters… we are also concerned about the rights of everybody else who lives in this community," he said.
He challenged the opponents to work with the city to tackle the issue at hand rather than shift all the focus to police crowd control efforts — which are already subject to ongoing city and community oversight efforts.
"This was a very reasonable, preemptive tool to have in our tool kit," he said "We are still interested in doing something other than the status quo because the status quo is cleary not working for our community."
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