Ted Wheeler’s war on anti-fascists

November 14, 2018

Michael Mullinax reports on a proposed anti-protest ordinance in Portland that would give more power to a police department with alarming far-right sympathies.

OVER THE last two years, Portland, Oregon, has earned a national reputation for being a repeated target of attacks and provocations from the nascent fascist movement that has grown at an alarming rate since Trump’s election.

What is less well known across the country is the role that the authorities in this famously liberal city have played in helping the goon squads, from the obvious far-right sympathies of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to the pathetic “neutrality” of Mayor Ted Wheeler.

In an outrageous echoing of Trump’s infamous post-Charlottesville “both sides” speech, Wheeler is pushing an ordinance that would give police expanded powers to crack down on protests as a means of “stopping violence between rival factions.”

The Portland Protest Safety Ordinance would give the mayor the power to determine the legitimacy of protests based on the following conditions:

(1) The groups [who are protesting] have a history of violence.

(2) The safety of bystanders or protesters is at risk.

(3) There is a substantial likelihood of violence.

Riot cops descend on protesters in Portland, Oregon
Riot cops descend on protesters in Portland, Oregon (Igal Koshevoy | flickr)

These vague criteria hand a disturbing amount of power to the office of the mayor — who is police commissioner under Portland city law — to curtail Portlanders’ right to protest, and it opens the door to further PPB repression against activists.

ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Mat dos Santos said in a statement on the ordinance:

The proposed ordinance raises many constitutional concerns. The mayor’s proposal grants broad authority to the mayor’s office to regulate constitutionally-protected speech and assembly with no meaningful oversight for abuse. Perhaps worse than the legal issues it raises, is that this ordinance is being sprung on the public with little notice as an emergency measure that will take effect immediately.

This action by the mayor demonstrates a lack of trust in the public and is an end-run around our usual democratic processes. We suspect that this rushed proposal will be met with public outcry and demonstrations. And, inevitably, this ordinance will get challenged in court. To be clear, we already have laws against street fighting and violence.

Wheeler’s initial plan was to pass the protest ordinance as an emergency measure to allow it to be implemented immediately. But that would have required a unanimous vote on the City Council (whose members are called commissioners), and it was opposed by Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Amanda Fritz.

Now the mayor is trying to get the measure passed by a majority vote on the five-person council, which would allow it to take effect after 30 days. Other than Wheeler, the only other commissioner who has publicly supported the ordinance is outgoing Commissioner Dan Salzman, and it remains to be seen if the measure will win majority support.

AT A November 8 hearing, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw testified in favor of the ordinance. Outlaw lamented that police overtime for protests has cost taxpayers $440,000 in 2018. “We’ve been doing the same thing and getting the same results,” she said. “At what point do we look for new ways to come up with a different solution?”

One obvious solution is to get rid of the police chief. At an August 4 protest where leftists mobilized against a far-right rally, the PPB attacked the anti-fascist demonstrators with flash-bang grenades, leaving one woman with severe chemical burns on her arm, and another protester with a head injury — who likely would have been killed had he not been wearing a helmet.

Afterward, the appropriately named Outlaw told right-wing talk radio host Lars Larson that the counterprotesters had come looking for a confrontation and got what was coming to them.

“I tell you, ‘Meet me after school at 3:00. Right? We’re gonna fight’,” she said. “And I come with the intention to fight. And then you get mad because I kicked your butt. And then you go back and you wail off and whine and complain.”

Last month it was revealed that on the morning of the August 4 rally, police had found Patriot Prayer members with a stash of rifles on the roof of a nearby parking garage. Wheeler claimed to have only just learned about the incident, but Outlaw almost certainly knew at the time she denounced anti-fascist protesters as whiners who lost a schoolyard fight.

At the November 8 hearing, Jo Ann Hardesty, a well-known figure in the Portland activist community who has just won an election to replace Salzman and become the first Black woman to serve on the Portland City Council, testified against the ordinance.

“I have been extremely disappointed in watching how the Portland Police Bureau has responded to out of town hate groups who show up and take over our downtown streets,” Hardesty said.

Commissioner Eudaly, a former renters’ rights activist, also had some pointed questions about the ordinance, including:

Portlanders have sustained countless injuries at the hands of the Portland Police Bureau. I can’t recall of any instances of protesters from Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer being seriously injured by police. Is this accurate? If so, how do you explain this?

How do you explain the perception, if not reality, that PPB see Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys as “more mainstream” than Portlanders who come to stand up to them?

Why is it that PPB seems to always be facing counterdemonstrators instead of the far-right paramilitary gangs that come to take over our streets? Has there ever been consideration of how this tactical decision actually empowers the alt-right groups, which makes Portland less safe for all?

Can the Portland Police Bureau explicitly and unequivocally state that Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys and similar alt-right, white supremacist gangs are the real threat to our public safety?

THE FACT that City Council members are opening questioning whether the PPB is sympathetic to white supremacist gangs reflects the department’s outrageous recent history.

On June 4, 2017, thousands of anti-fascist activists and community members responded to the horrific stabbing by white supremacist Jeremy Christian on the MAX light rail by protesting the presence of the far-right group Patriot Prayer and their ugly coalition of fascists, Proud Boys and other racist thugs.

In a scene that has become all too familiar, the PPB — with the help of both the Department of Homeland Security and the far-right Oath Keepers militia — brutally cracked down on the protesters and improperly detained almost 400 anti-fascist activists, according to the city’s Independent Police Review Division.

According to a report on the demonstration by Rose City Antifa, activists had their IDs illegally photographed by law enforcement personnel before they were able to be released.

While the June 4, 2017, and August 4, 2018, incidents stand out as particularly egregious examples of violent police repression of protests, they are by no means unique. From Occupy Portland to May Day of 2017, the Portland Police Bureau has a long history of excessive and illegal use of force.

Mayor Wheeler, who frequently touts his “progressive” credentials, is facing increasing outrage from Portlanders for his proclivity to blame left-wing activists for violence while remaining silent on the blatant misconduct and brutality of his police force.

A prime example of this hypocrisy occurred during the #OccupyICEPDX action this summer, when hundreds of activists blockaded and camped around an ICE facility in the South Waterfront district. Wheeler initially promised not to send the police to sweep the camp, but a month later that’s exactly what he did.

In addition to the excessive use of force used to quash protests, the PPB, like so many other police institutions in the U.S., is guilty of the systematic murder of Black and Brown people in the city.

In June, Campus Public Safety Officers at Portland State University — deputized by PPB — shot and killed Jason Washington, an African American postal worker and union leader who was trying to break up a fight on campus. On September 30, PPB officers shot and killed African American Patrick Kimmons, shooting him nine times in the back.

A 2012 Justice Department investigation found that the PPB had “engaged in a “pattern and practice” of excessive use of force against people with mental illness.”

The PPB’s motto is “Sworn to protect, dedicated to serve,”
but Portlanders are, to put it mildly, wondering who the PPB is protecting and serving, and wondering why Mayor Wheeler is advocating this draconian measure to empower the city’s police to stomp on civil rights even more than they already are.

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