Protesters to Portland mayor: Freeze rents or face our cough
Not good enough.
That was the message from a band of protesters — who hijacked a Portland press conference and demanded an immediate rent freeze amidst the ongoing global pandemic.
Multnomah County chair Deborah Kafoury and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler were in the middle of announcing a temporary halt on evictions during the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new strain of the coronavirus.
Then the event — held Tuesday, March 17 at McCoy Health Department Headquarters — went off the rails.
"Neither the virus nor the housing crisis will disappear at the end of the month, or in three months, or in six months," a black-clad demonstrator said after wresting control of the podium about halfway through the 40-minute briefing.
"Freezing rent until the economy can safely recover is the only way to keep thousands more Portlanders off the streets," the protester continued, to a chorus of cheers from other supporters off camera. "Flatten the curve! Freeze the rents!"
The disruption was watched live by thousands livestreaming the press conference or watching an online broadcast from local news stations.
"This is not a council session," responded Mayor Wheeler, who is well acquainted with shouted outbursts from onlookers at City Hall. "You need to go outside."
That elicited a uniquely COVID action from a protester: "I should just come to you and cough on you, what are you going to do about that?"
While not specifically identifying themselves, the protesters appear to be affiliated with a document calling for a rent freeze, which has been circulating online recently. Protesters said at least 17,000 have signed the petition so far.
The demonstrators were eventually shown the door, allowing gathered reporters to continue asking questions. County spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti says authorities will keep press events closed to the public going forward.
"Disruptive and threatening behavior is harmful, counterproductive, and could be criminal," Sullivan-Springhetti told the Tribune. "Threatening to give people COVID and then repeatedly coughing in the face of a young security guard and reporters who have to show up to do their job is shocking and unacceptable."
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