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Mayor Wheeler tells Portland police to use tear gas only if lives are threatened

Mayor Ted Wheeler has directed the Portland police to only use tear gas if "a serious and immediate threat to life safety" arises.

PORTLAND, Ore. — In a statement Saturday, the Portland mayor's office advised the Portland Police Bureau not to use tear gas, or CS gas, unless there is "a serious and immediate threat to life safety."

Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a written statement:

I stand in solidarity with our non-violent demonstrators, who are sending a strong message that we are long overdue for meaningful reform and restorative justice.

Our community has serious concerns about the use of CS gas for crowd management, particularly during a time when we’re battling a pandemic. I share those concerns. Today, I directed Portland Police Chief Jami Resch that gas should not be used unless there is a serious and immediate threat to life safety, and there is no other viable alternative for dispersal. I strongly believe that gas should not be used to disperse crowds of non-violent protesters or for general crowd management purposes. It should only be used in response to violence that threatens life safety. My priority and focus are to protect the lives of demonstrators, our first responders, and the people in custody at the Justice Center.

I am confident that the Portland Police officers, Multnomah County Sheriff deputies, and Oregon State Police troopers on the ground will continue to acknowledge the voice of protesters and act in a way that reflects the professionalism that is expected and is a core value of our police force, as well as the law enforcement agencies supporting them. Night after night, they are doing what they can to prioritize and protect the public’s safety.

My colleagues and I are acutely aware of the urgency around these issues, and will continue to work together in the coming days to put together a package of actions that address the demands we are hearing loudly from our community.

On Friday, Wheeler had told protesters outside the Multnomah County Justice Center that he supported a tear gas ban for 30 days.

Police used tear gas and other crowd control munitions late Friday night in a struggle with protesters outside the Justice Center.

It is not entirely clear how the use of tear gas will change following the Mayor's directive to Police Chief Resch. It is unclear at this time what the Mayor's office defines as a "serious or immediate threat to life safety" or whether the use of gas is still up to a ground officer's discretion. 

For the past several nights, thousands of people have marched into downtown to protest police brutality and racism after the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died in police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The marches have been peaceful, but police have repeatedly declared protests later in the evening near the Justice Center to be "unlawful assemblies." 

Police say Justice Center protesters were throwing dangerous items at officers Friday night.

Additionally, Mayor Wheeler directed police on Friday not to use LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) machines to emit sonic tones to disperse crowds.

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