The mayor of the U.S. city of Portland, Ted Wheeler, was stung by tear gas early on Thursday morning after he joined demonstrators protesting against racial injustice and police brutality.
The U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday it would investigate the use of force against protesters in Portland, Oregon, following another night of unrest in which the city’s mayor was tear-gassed.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office will launch an investigation of allegations federal agents used excessive force against peaceful protesters in Portland and a separate review of actions taken against protesters in Washington, DC’s Lafayette Square near the White House on June 1.
Democratic lawmakers have asked for such an investigation over concerns Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf were using federal agents to “suppress First Amendment protected activities.” The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to assemble peacefully.
The White House did not immediately comment on the announcement.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was stung by tear gas early on Thursday morning after joining demonstrators, who have been protesting for nearly two months against racial injustice and police brutality.
Security forces have frequently tear-gassed and clubbed demonstrators during the unrest and Wheeler, visiting the protest site outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, urged that federal agents be withdrawn from the city.
But Wheeler, who is also the city’s police commissioner, was jeered by demonstrators, who called on him to resign and chanted “Shame on You.” Some said he should have done more to protect Portland’s citizens.
The deployment of federal agents in Portland on July 4 is a flashpoint in a national debate over civil liberties that has roiled the United States since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
Demonstrators and local officials see the move as a political ploy by U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, to drum up a “law and order” campaign as he faces an uphill re-election battle.
Wheeler, a Democrat, has called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. The past week has seen bigger and bigger crowds of supporters joining the demonstrations.
“They’re not wanted here. They’re not properly trained to be here. And we’re asking them right this minute – we’re demanding that they leave,” he said. “We’re demanding that the federal government stop occupying our city.”
Wheeler, wearing a surgical mask and goggles, experienced two rounds of heavy tear gas, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. His eyes and nose were running, his face was red and his eyes were bloodshot.
Asked about his experience of being tear-gassed, Wheeler told Reuters: “You can’t really comply with any orders that are being issued because, frankly, you’re not paying attention to what’s around you, you’re focusing on your eyes. You’re focusing on trying to breathe.”
In addition to being tear-gassed, Wheeler faced demonstrators screaming expletives at him and some threw water bottles at him.
The mayor has been criticized by demonstrators for the local police’s unchecked use of force against demonstrators, which has included tear gassing, trampling and pummeling protesters.
One demonstrator asked Wheeler if he was willing to abolish the police, to which he replied ‘No’, followed by loud boos from many.
Last week, protesters said uniformed personnel without name tags or agency badges snatched young people off the streets into unmarked vans before eventually releasing them. It remains unclear what that operation was intended to do, but it failed to dent the enthusiasm of the protesters.
Hundreds of women calling themselves a “wall of moms” and wearing bike helmets and yellow T-shirts appeared among the protesters following those reports.
Carrying signs like “Feds stay clear. Moms are here,” and “I’m so disappointed in you – mom,” the women have been shoved and tear-gassed by agents. Some older men have also joined, bringing leaf blowers to blow away tear gas.