Portland Mayor: Unrest ‘Will Ultimately Burn Itself Out’

Rioters again set fire to the Portland police union building on Monday
August 25, 2020 Updated: August 25, 2020

Portland’s mayor claimed the unrest that’s plagued the city since May will “burn itself out,” in remarks published just hours before rioters set fire to the police union building and attacked police officers.

“I believe this will ultimately burn itself out,” Ted Wheeler, a Democrat who serves as the city’s mayor and police commissioner, told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OBP).

Wheeler said he’s working on a plan that will accelerate the end of the rioting.

City and state officials have struggled to quell the unrest.

Wheeler said a mix of appeasement and deescalation, or having officers not engage with demonstrators, was working until federal officers surged to the city last month to protect a U.S. courthouse that Trump administration officials said was nearly overwhelmed.

In a briefing on July 17, Wheeler revealed his plan.

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Rioters set fire to the Portland Police Association office in north Portland, Ore., on Aug. 24, 2020. (Portland Police Bureau)

“We get rid of the feds. Number two, we contain and deescalate the situation. Number three, we clean up downtown. Number four, we open up for business. That’s the plan,” he told reporters.

That hasn’t worked. Repeated clashes at the courthouse stopped by the end of the month, but rioters have turned to other buildings, including police precincts and the Portland Police Association office.

Sixty-two people have been arrested since Sunday night as things seem to be intensifying, not dying down.

For at least the third time, a crowd on Monday targeted the police union building in north Portland. They cut power to the office and lit the building on fire, the Portland Police Bureau said in an incident summary. Someone poured what appeared to be an accelerant on the fire, causing it to quickly get bigger.

Police officers moved in to disperse the mob and clashed with rioters for hours, ultimately arresting 25 people, primarily Portland residents. A baton, a dagger, and multiple knives were among the weapons found on those arrested. Charges included interfering with an officer, riot, and disorderly conduct.

Many charges will likely be dropped under a new policy from the district attorney who oversees the city.

Earlier Tuesday, acting Homeland Security Security Chad Wolf urged Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, to take action.

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Weapons found on those arrested in north Portland, Ore., on Aug. 24, 2020. (Portland Police Bureau)

Brown should deploy the National Guard, send Oregon state officers back to Portland, or request assistance from the Trump administration, according to Wolf.

“Portland law enforcement is doing what they can but need help to proactively address violence,” he said.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, sent National Guardsmen to Kenosha Monday to try to help keep the peace, but rioting still took place overnight.

Wheeler blamed the continued violence in his city on a small group of people. The main question, he told OBP, is, “How do you hold that small number of people accountable without infringing on the First Amendment rights of everyone else?”

Police officers have tried a number of different tactics, he added.

“They’ve tried everything from not showing up to preemptively dispersing crowds, and some of those strategies, in my opinion, have worked well. Others have not worked well,” he said. “My expectation is the police bureau will evolve, and as they see a need for change, they’ll change.”

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