Protesters are asked: What will it take?
Protesters at the Multnomah County Justice Center Wednesday night had an overwhelming message for Mayor Ted Wheeler: Quit your job.
Wheeler responded to a call to listen to protesters on Wednesday, July 22, by showing up for the 55th day of protests. He stayed out on the downtown streets for hours — long enough to feel the effects of tear gas deployed near the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse — after addressing a crowd calling for his resignation.
"He's been silent, not doing anything about the police violence," Pedro Anglava said, taking a break from shouting into a microphone with a portable amplifier. "People are facing violence with rubber bullets, gas on a nightly basis, to the point now where we have the feds in town."
As Portland's protests neared the two-month mark, and national media zoomed in on the city, many wondered what it would take to end the nightly demonstrations. Anglava, like many, took aim at the city's police force, and said major change needs to start with the mayor.
"He had an opportunity to work with the community and defund the police and invest in the community, and decided not to do it," Anglava said. "And now he thinks he's gonna come talk to the community? We want action. The best action he can do is to resign."
Wheeler serves as the city's police commissioner. When asked directly if he'd consider stripping the Portland Police Bureau of its funding, he said no. Wheeler said he's committed to getting rid of qualified immunity for law enforcement, and pointed to incremental steps the city already has taken. In June, the City Council passed a budget that cut $15 million from Portland Police Bureau's budget, but that wasn't enough to dramatically shift the role of police.
Wheeler is up for re-election in November. He faces challenger Sarah Iannarone, though several protesters who spoke to media Wednesday said they'll throw their support behind Teressa Raiford, who ran for the mayor's seat in the May primary election, as a write-in vote. Raiford is the founder of Don't Shoot Portland.
Alivia Weigand said it was frustrating to see Wheeler at the protest. She said she's been showing up on and off since the first weekend because she doesn't feel safe in Oregon or the United States.
"Ted Wheeler wants to come out here and say that he's gonna change the police," Weigand said, "but until we actually see the police defunded — we actually see change — I don't think there's going to be any stopping."
To Weigand, defunding means reallocating police funds. "We don't need them," she said of police. "We can create different organizations that can serve the community better."
Julianne Jackson of Salem agreed. "The reality is, he could stop this by working with the Black community and giving us what we're asking for. It's really not opulent, it's what rich white communities get all the time," Jackson said. "Policing is not preventative, it's reactionary, so give us what we need to prevent it, so you don't have to come into our communities and do these things."
The week prior, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty gave Wheeler an ultimatum:
"I demand action right now. Mayor Wheeler if you can't control the police, give me the Portland Police Bureau"
Hardesty made the demand public on July 18.
Wheeler didn't cave.
Amid angry crowds and impromptu questions Wednesday evening, the mayor's responses often fell flat. He was drowned out by the crowds, who shouted expletives and jeered him.
When asked what could be done to get federal agents out of Portland, Wheeler issued a warning for other cities in the United States, and said the state is "using the tools of the law" to get them to leave.
"I'm doing everything in my power to get them to leave," Wheeler said. "Our state attorney general, our city attorneys, they're using every action available," Wheeler added.
But that won't come fast enough, one woman said, interrupting Wheeler and pressing him for concrete action, or an admission that none could be taken.
"What are you going to do tonight when we have federal unmarked officers hurting your civilians, hurting your citizens, the people who elected you?" she asked.
"I believe the fastest path is what we're pursuing," Wheeler replied.
His office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.
Wheeler followed a crowd into the streets, where he was subject to a heavy dose of tear gas from federal agents. The gas was deployed after fireworks and incendiary objects lobbed at the federal building caused a fire.
The next day, lawmakers made an attempt to stop federal agents from occupying Portland protests by pulling money from the Department of Homeland Security budget.
U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer, joined by two other members of Congress, filed three amendments to the 2021 appropriations bills for Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, in an effort to defund the agencies' ability to use the protection of federal property to justify their presence in Oregon.
The protests that started in late May over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis yielded a groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement across the United States. In Portland, that movement has fueled the sustained demonstrations.
Now, as local and federal police have deployed tear gas, pepper spray, flash bangs and other munitions against protesters, press and legal observers, some say the fight against police brutality hits closer to home.
Nicole Mercier fashioned a metal garbage can lid into a shield with signage, after she said an officer shot through her cardboard sign with a munition on a previous night, hitting her in the head. Luckily, she was wearing a helmet, but said it still made her feel vulnerable.
For Portlander Ethan Dutcher, the protests were a turning point.
"When I first came here, I was kind of on the fence," Dutcher acknowledged. "I was kind of under the impression of 'Well, the George Floyd thing didn't happen in Portland, so why is this going on here?' So, I came back to actually just figure that out and the first night I came here, I had to help pull a protester out from being beaten by the cops. I saw firsthand. That got me off the fence."
Dutcher admits he's torn on whether the tactics used by some protesters are helping, or hurting the cause.
"I'm very conflicted about the burning and the more violent side of it, because I can see that people don't pay attention unless it's extreme, but at the same time, I do see, you know, certain bad behavior and people are lighting fires and it's not this black and white thing."
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