Portland Leaders Need to Contain Violence or Resign: Expert

July 22, 2020 Updated: July 22, 2020

Portland officials need to get the violence in their city under control or step down, a law enforcement expert told The Epoch Times, especially Portland Mayor and Police Commissioner Ted Wheeler.

“I just look at this with total disbelief. There has to be a certain level of leadership,” said Maria Haberfeld, professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“It’s all about creating a peaceful environment for people who live in your city. And if you cannot come up with a plan, then you have to step down.”

Nightly riots have left a portion of downtown Portland boarded up and have caused an estimated $23 million in damage and lost revenue.

Members of far-left group Antifa and others have used fencing and other items to block exits and entrances to a federal courthouse, a city building that includes a police precinct, and other facilities. They’ve broken into and looted businesses, tried to breach the federal and city facilities, set fires, and assaulted police officers who respond to the mayhem.

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Rioters work to barricade an entrance to the federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 17, 2020. (Mason Trinca/Getty Images)
Rioters set off smoke grenades on the steps of Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 17, 2020. (Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

The situation was “completely mishandled since day one. There’s absolutely no room for vandalism, devastation, violence, disruption of everyday life. This needs to be handled from the first moment it occurs,” Haberfeld told The Epoch Times.

“The longer it’s tolerated, the more out of control it becomes, the harder it is to contain it.”

The offices of Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, both Democrats, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Both officials want federal forces to withdraw entirely from the city. The Trump administration sent federal assets to Portland on July 4 after rioters began targeting the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, a federal courthouse.

Wheeler can be opposed to federal intervention but he must show he can contain the problem locally, Haberfeld said.

“He displays zero leadership,” she added. “He has no concrete plan of how to contain it.”

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Mannequins are seen through shattered glass at an H&M store in downtown Portland, Ore., after violent demonstrations the night before, on July 13, 2020. (Gillian Flaccus/AP Photo)
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Damage from a recent fire set by demonstrators seen on the boarded-up windows of a hair products business that caters to African-American customers in a historically Black neighborhood in Portland, Ore., on July 1, 2020. (Gillian Flaccus/AP Photo)

Details on city and state plans to contain the violence have been scant.

Wheeler told reporters in a virtual briefing last week that a combination of appeasement and de-escalation was working before the federal surge.

Ordering police officers to hide inside the Justice Center, instead of engaging the rioters, was working because it removed any opportunities for a back-and-forth between demonstrators and law enforcement, or vice versa, Wheeler claimed.

“What we saw was the numbers were dwindling, the energy in the crowd was decreasing or moving elsewhere to do other things. Then the feds came in,” he said.

“There’s absolutely no question that the protests were calming down, and that the presence of federal troops here … has substantially exacerbated an already challenging situation,” Brown said during a recent appearance on MSNBC.

While the rioters’ numbers have swelled since the surge in federal agents, there appears to be no independent evidence to support the claims.

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Demonstrators gather amid lingering tear gas fired by federal law enforcement officials in Portland, Ore., on July 19, 2020. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)
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A federal officer pulls his sidearm while dispersing a crowd of about a thousand at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 20, 2020. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

A police official told reporters on July 8 that the level of violence seen since May 28 “is really unprecedented in Portland’s history.”

“We’re always hopeful that we’re winding down, but we’re six weeks into this. We’ve never seen this intensity of violent, focused criminal activity over this long of a period of time, at least in the time I have been here,” Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said.

Walking downtown will expose people to a scene of boarded-up windows and extensive damage to public property, he added.

“Quite frankly, this is not sustainable. Violence and damage have displaced the message about systemic change in the wake of the George Floyd murder. There’s a very big difference between protests and the kind of mayhem that we’ve seen every night,” Davis told reporters.

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Demonstrators gather in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center in Portland, Ore., on July 20, 2020. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
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A Black Lives Matter demonstrator burns an American flag outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 20, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

The riots started at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Southwest Portland on May 28 before shifting to the Justice Center area the next evening.

Police officers have witnessed widespread burglary, theft, property damage, fires being set downtown, and assaults on police officers.

Rioters broke into and set fire to the Portland police union building and entered a Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office facility, where they searched through records and committed arson. They also breached the Justice Center and started a fire.

Peaceful protests do occur on a daily basis, Davis stressed, but they devolve into violence at night. He blamed a small group of agitators for the violence.

The Portland Police Association, a police union, says city officials aren’t able to resolve the situation.

“We have no confidence that City Council will stop the rioting and looting and protect the safety and livelihoods of all Portlanders,” the union’s executive board said earlier this month.

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Jo Ann Hardesty, Portland city commissioner, speaks during a demonstration in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center in Portland, Ore., on July 17, 2020. (Ankur Dholakia/AFP via Getty Images)
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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler poses for a photo in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 5, 2019. (Craig Mitchelldyer/AP Photo)

Wheeler is on the City Council, along with four others: Commissioners Amanda Fritz, Jo Ann Hardesty, and Chloe Eudaly, and City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero.

Hardesty, a Democrat, tried pressuring Wheeler over the weekend into giving up control of the police department, accusing the bureau of “collaborating with this federal occupying force.”

“You are putting our community in danger. You are putting my staff in danger. We need you to be better. We need you to stop denying the violence being perpetrated by our own police force” and make clear local police should never work with federal officials, Hardesty said in a statement sent to the mayor.

Wheeler said in a statement on Monday that he will not step down as police commissioner.

When the riots eventually come to an end, it will be because of government action, Haberfeld, the police expert, told The Epoch Times.

“I think the police can definitely handle it, but they have to be empowered by the mayor,” she said.

“I do know that when a city is on fire for almost two months, and the mayor refuses to contain it, then there is a role for [the] federal government.”

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