Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon, shifted their focus to the city’s mayor, and police declared a riot as people broke windows, vandalized a business and set a small fire inside the upscale apartment building where Mayor Ted Wheeler lives.
The demonstration that began late Monday and extended into Tuesday fell on Wheeler’s 58th birthday and featured shiny golden alphabet balloons that protesters used to spell out an expletive.
They sang on the street outside the mayor’s building, some wearing party hats, and the fire was set with a bundle of newspapers in a store housed on the ground floor of Wheeler’s building. There were no reports of major damage or injuries.
Wheeler, who is also police commissioner, has come under fire for his failure to bring the violence in Oregon’s largest city under control and for heading up a police force that has used tear gas multiple times against demonstrators.
Some also blame the mayor for engaging in a war of words with President Donald Trump instead of focusing on local needs. Trump has put Portland and other Democrat-led cities in the crosshairs of a “law and order” re-election campaign theme — a move that’s escalated tensions in the city and drawn the attention of right-wing Trump supporters.
A supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer was killed Saturday during clashes between dueling protesters. A caravan of Trump supporters, estimated at about 600 cars, encountered Black Lives Matter protesters as they drove through the downtown and skirmishes broke out.
Police have not announced an arrest in the slaying of Aaron J. Danielson, 39, of Portland, and have said nothing about what led up the shooting.
Police Chief Chuck Lovell denounced the vandalism and said it was an escalation of previous protester actions.
“The families that live inside have done absolutely nothing to provoke a threat to their lives. As I’ve stated repeatedly, the nightly violence is coming at increased cost,” he said.
Lovell added: “This is impacting the safety of our entire City and urgent action is needed. Our elected officials need to do their part to draw a line in the sand and to hold people accountable. The violent behaviour must end.”
Wheeler said late Tuesday on his Facebook page that the vandalism negatively impacted a minority-owned business.
“Arson and terrorizing families with children does nothing except steal, and distract from, the important message of the racial justice movement. Organizations in the community who encouraged or condoned these actions are complicit,” he said.
Wheeler added: “The community must rise up and say `enough is enough’ and hold all of us accountable. We cannot truly move on together and make the positive changes we want to see until this violence is stopped. All violence.”
Protesters were angered last Sunday when Wheeler held a news conference about the shooting and traded barbs with Trump, who was watching the conference live on TV and tweeted insults at Wheeler.
Many said afterward that they wanted to hear about solutions to the violence and how to keep the city’s Black residents safe. They complained that the mayor instead engaged in “political theatre” with the president to raise his own profile.
Wheeler, the son of a wealthy timber scion, is seeking a second term against Sarah Iannarone, a candidate to the left of him who has marched repeatedly with protesters.
Wheeler said at the news conference that he does not believe in completely defunding the police, would not resign and would not turn over the Portland Police Bureau to Jo Ann Hardesty, the city’s first Black councilwoman.
“He used that press conference to try to score political points with a president we already know is a problem. He was asked point-blank what could have been done to prevent this, what could we do better in the future, and he did not have concrete strategies,” said Cameron Whitten, founder of the Black Resilience Fund and a longtime activist in the city. “It truly was appalling.”
The situation grew more uncertain Monday, when two suburban counties and a nearby city refused to send deputies and officers to help the Portland police keep the peace. The Oregon State Police and sheriff’s deputies from Multnomah County — the county that includes Portland — are bolstering the city’s force.
But officials in Clackamas and Washington counties and the city of Gresham said they would not send law enforcement personnel to Portland.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said flooding the city with more law enforcement would never work because Portland’s newly elected district attorney has dismissed charges against hundreds of protesters arrested for nonviolent, low-level crimes.
Roberts and Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett also said the liability for their deputies would be too great.
“The same offenders are arrested night after night, only to be released by the court and not charged with a crime by the DA’s office. The next night they are back at it, endangering the lives of law enforcement and the community all over again,” Roberts said.
Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, has so far declined to send the National Guard to Portland, as Trump has suggested.