Portland, OR – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler backtracked on his earlier assessment of how well his “choose love” strategy worked during last month’s violent brawl between antifa and the Proud Boys, and now says the hands-off approach he told police to use “was not the right strategy.”
Wheeler, who is also the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) commissioner, announced on Aug. 20 that police would not intervene in the violent clashes anticipated to erupt that weekend between the opposing groups, Willamette Week reported.
The mayor told the warring groups to just “choose love” instead.
“We are dedicated to keeping the peace. Our ask is simple: We are asking you to choose love,” Wheeler said during a press conference. “People should not necessarily expect to see the police standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart. People need to keep themselves apart and avoid physical confrontation.”
PPB Chief Chuck Lovell agreed that sending law enforcement officers into violent mobs is not “the best tactical approach” and said police would probably just make arrests after the events wrapped up, Willamette Week reported.
“You should not expect to see police officers standing in the middle of crowds trying to keep people apart. Remember, arrests do not always happen in the moment,” Chief Lovell said during the press conference. “If you’re considering coming downtown to fight, threaten people or participate in violence, stay away. If people do engage in violent activity or property destruction, they face arrest and prosecution.”
All days off for PPB personnel were canceled in anticipation of the potential clash, Willamette Week reported.
The bureau currently has 145 fewer officers than it did at the same time last year.
Both antifa and Proud Boys show up to such event specifically to engage their political opponents in street fights, so asking them to keep themselves apart was doomed to fail.
The groups opted not to “choose love” and brawled as predicted, beating one another with bats, shooting each other with chemicals and paintballs, setting off explosives, and destroying property around the city for hours as police stood by and complied with directives not to intervene, KGW reported.
When gunfire erupted, they stepped in and arrested one rioter who they said was captured on camera shooting a firearm into the street at Yamhill and Southwest 2nd, according to the news outlet.
They said they had evidence someone fired back, but no other arrests were made, The Oregonian reported.
No one was injured during the exchange of gunfire, but bullets riddled nearby restaurant facades and parked vehicles.
Wheeler declared the city’s response to the violent weekend was a success and said he did a great job by telling police to stand down, The Oregonian reported.
“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,” he said triumphantly. “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 mayor said the “community at large” was not injured, which he claimed meant “the broader public was protected,” The Oregonian reported.
“Property damage was minimal.,” he added.
But the public disagreed with Wheeler’s declaration that the hands-off strategy was a win.
Critics took to social media to voice their dissent and to blast Wheeler for how the city handled the brawls.
Some alleged the lack of police presence emboldened criminals to be even more violent, The Oregonian reported.
During a Portland City Council meeting on Sept. 8, Wheeler finally admitted that the hands-off approach didn’t work out so well, KGW reported.
“It is clear based on the public outcry, on the media outcry on the national front, that that strategy was not the right strategy,” he said. “I take full responsibility for it. I think we all acknowledge we want to do better.”
“It’s clear the public wants something else,” the mayor continued. “The public doesn’t want an overwhelming police presence, nor do they want the appearance that the police are not going to get engaged. But I also want to put on the table again, we have to also be concerned about our public employees we send into these situations where there are mutual combatants wanting to beat the crap out of each other.”
Wheeler said he has asked the PPB to analyze the response to see what can be done differently in the future, KGW reported.
He referred the Aug. 22 as a learning experience, but provided no alternatives for the next time a large-scale confrontation occurs between antifa and the Proud Boys.
“We did our best,” the mayor said, according to The Oregonian. “We’re still trying to find the right recipe.”