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'Lets be honest. It's ugly': Mayor Wheeler addresses use of tear gas against Portland protesters

Portland police have used CS gas on protesters throughout the week. Experts say the tactic is especially dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Friday morning he feels use of tear gas against protesters is "ugly," and admitted he agrees with activists who want the police to stop using tear gas.

Wheeler, who also serves as the city's police commissioner, added he wants viable alternatives to be used to disburse crowds, if the bureau were to stop using tear gas.

Friday morning, Portland Police Deputy Chief Chris Davis defended the bureau's use of CS gas, saying officers use it after they've already verbally warned protesters that they need to disperse.

"We're pushing the limits of my technical understanding of the details of each of these tools," Deputy Chief Davis said. "There are different kinds of irritants or tear gas. At one end is something like pepper spray, that is actually a little worse than CS, when you're exposed to that it sticks with you for 90 minutes and it's really hard to wash off. As opposed to CS gas which is a substance that if you walk out of it you really stop feeling effects right away. You'll have some residual effects that I've encountered it, I might get a little bit of an aftertaste. You're functional a lot faster, and you'll suffer a whole lot less long."

When Mayor Wheeler was pushed to respond to the bureau's use of tear gas, he responded by saying, "Let's be honest. It's ugly. It looks ugly.

"Nobody who knows this community wants to see that. But I want to be clear: neither do police. I stand with those who say we should ban use of tear gas but with an important provision. I would support discontinuation of tear gas or CS gas, provided there are viable alternatives for dispersal that do not involve higher uses of force. That's part of the conversation we need to have," Wheeler said. "I'm not willing to say today I would ban it, without acknowledging we need to know there are viable alternatives that don't include a higher use of force."

Medical professionals, including the president of Oregon Health and Science University, have recently spoken up about the use of tear gas amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The release of airborne droplets through tear gas-induced coughing could accelerate the spread of COVID-19 and lead to a surge in new cases. Damage to the respiratory tract can put individuals at greater risk of adverse outcomes if they become infected with COVID-19," OHSU President Danny Jacobs said in a news release this week.

When he was pushed on continuing the use of tear gas this week -- as the coronavirus pandemic rages on -- Wheeler responded, "I think I already answered that question. One part I should have added: are there viable alternatives? Are there viable alternatives that don't involve higher use of force? Can our officers be safe and use whatever those tactics are safely?"

When he was directly asked about banning tear gas during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, "I think everything should be on the table. There are many discussions about use of force."

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