After violent clashes between far-right and far-left political groups in Northeast Portland on Aug. 22 ended in gunfire, some are criticizing the police department’s passive, hands-off approach.
When left-wing Antifa and right-wing demonstrators got into a brawl wielding pepper spray, paintball guns and baseball bats against each other, police stood observing on the sidelines.
“People were lighting fireworks and dispersing chemical spray, as well as firing what appeared to be paintball and/or airsoft guns,” police said in a statement. “Some property destruction was observed.”
According to The Oregonian, police were directed to stand down even as local residents got caught in the fight. It was only until gunshots were fired that police intervened.
Many residents were left feeling terrorized and abandoned as the violent clash continued unchecked.
“Your city terrifies me,” tweeted Tanny Martin, a resident from Austin, Texas who was visiting the city. “These aren’t protests, they are planned violence. And your leaders just let them keep doing it, the police tacitly support it. Horrific.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler initially defended the police’s strategy.
“With strategic planning and oversight, the Portland Police Bureau and I mitigated confrontation between the two events and minimized the impact of the weekend’s events to Portlanders,” Wheeler claimed.
Wheeler admitted that the strategy’s goal was never to stop violence between the two groups, but only to control it and prevent it from affecting neutral parties.
“In the past, these same groups have clashed with extremely violent and destructive results. This time, violence was contained to the groups of people who chose to engage in violence toward each other. The community at large was not harmed and the broader public was protected. Property damage was minimal,” he explained.
According to The Oregonian, Wheeler was afraid that police interference would start fights between Antifa members and officers, and could lead to property damage. Officials said that they would only send in officers in a “life safety emergency.”
However, Wheeler changed his position just weeks after the incident at a Portland City Council meeting.
“It is clear, based on the public outcry, on the media outcry, on the national front, that that strategy was not the right strategy. I think we can all acknowledge that. I take full responsibility for it,” he said.
Wheeler added that Portland was still “trying to find the right recipe” for managing riots, according to the AP.