Wheeler: Love 'will prevail,' not Portland street brawling
All eyes are on Portland as the city prepares for another weekend of pre-planned street warfare.
Social media has been atwitter for more than a week regarding a planned gathering by right-wing groups at noon at Tom McCall Waterfront Park on Sunday, Aug. 22. Left-wing forces have vowed to oppose the event.
Portlanders can nearly set their clock by the dueling protests seen downtown each summer — indeed it was exactly one year earlier that a "Say No to Marxism" event held outside the Central Precinct devolved into barrages of pepper spray and paintball pellets as police largely failed to intervene.
During the Aug. 20 press conference, Police Chief Chuck Lovell said officers were unlikely to wade into the fray unless responding to a "life safety event."
"We're not going to deploy people to stand in the line or in the middle of violent groups to keep people apart where it doesn't make tactical sense to do so," Lovell said, adding that 145 officers have left the force in the past year.
As recently as 2020, Portland police would sometimes make massive showings at pre-planned street brawls— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) August 20, 2021
Chief Chuck Lovell says the bureau lost 145 officers in the past year
"We're not going to deploy people to stand... in the middle of violent groups to keep people apart." pic.twitter.com/ApHDGkjEB8
Lovell said conversations with Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office were "ongoing," but declined to offer specifics and said National Guard troops were unlikely to be deployed.
The chief noted that the disbandment of the Rapid Response Team that typically deploys to riots had led to the loss of a "highly trained" unit.
"We're clearly not the organization we were a year ago," Lovell said.
Eric Ward, the leader of the Western States Center, said media outlets should avoid false equivalency when reporting on groups of outsiders traveling to Portland in an attempt to spread a message of bigotry.
"This is not merely combat," said Ward. "The target is to undermine local governments."
With a full deck of reporters from local and national outlets crowding into the virtual meeting, the presser took on a tense and confrontational mood, with mayoral aide Sam Adams even loudly interjecting "C'mon!" after one journalist asked a follow-up question.
Adams later said he was talking to someone else, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler volunteered to extend the meeting to ensure every question was answered.
"We have many eyes trained on the event," Wheeler said. "We will make arrests as people leave the park or later if they engage in criminal conduct."
Wheeler declined to label the expected participants as domestic terrorists, saying that was a formal designation — and batted down the suggestion that he failed to take extremism seriously.
"I don't know how many press conferences I held," he said, arguing the city will define itself "not as a community of clashes and violence, but as a community of collaboration and partnership and love. And ultimately I think that is a message that will prevail."
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