PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the city may change how police respond to political violence, after the August 22 brawl between members of the far-right hate group the Proud Boys and far-left antifa included a man being held down and beaten, explosives set off near businesses and at least two people shooting into the street in downtown Portland.
The groups gathered for what has become an annual fight in Portland, and fought for hours first at the parking lot of an old K-mart on Northeast 122nd and Shaver, and later in downtown Portland. One person, Dennis Anderson of Gresham, was arrested after Portland police said he was caught on video shooting into the street at Southwest 2nd and Yamhill.
It was only when the shooting started that police got involved in the brawl. For hours beforehand, people were left to fight unchecked, destroying property and setting off explosives around the city. Two days ahead of the battle, the mayor's office held a press conference urging people to "Choose Love," but declined to say when or if police would get involved in the fight. But at the City Council's Wednesday morning session, Mayor Wheeler admitted that the hands-off approach was a mistake.
"It is clear based on the public outcry, on the media outcry on the national front, that that strategy was not the right strategy," Mayor Wheeler said, following public testimony regarding an unrelated settlement over Portland Police use of force that injured a woman in 2018. "I take full responsibility for it. I think we all acknowledge we want to do better."
The mayor's office has dealt with criticism in recent months as the two groups clash violently in public while police stand by without intervening. Two weeks prior to the brawl, another fight in downtown Portland between the groups included a man walking around with a realistic-looking AR-15 style rifle, that police later said was an airsoft gun. Police said the man, Mark Lee, was not approached by police until he requested help from them himself. Other witnesses said police sat in their patrol cars while fighting raged around them.
"It's clear the public wants something else," Mayor Wheeler said during a city council meeting Wednesday. "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."
Mayor Wheeler said he'll ask the police bureau for an analysis on the way the "Choose Love" plan played out, in order to shape the police's response to political violence going forward.
"Three weeks ago was an example that I think we will all learn from," he announced. "I've asked the police bureau and others to provide to me and to the city council a thoughtful, dispassionate analysis of both the planning, the preparation and the execution of the strategy on August 22nd."
The mayor defended the plan, saying it was in response to a national outcry against police intervention, input from the Department of Justice and support for the First Amendment.
"That strategy was one I approved. I supported it."
The mayor didn't offer any alternatives for the next time violence happens, only saying that he understands that Portland is "ground zero" for alt-right groups to visit and rally, because they know they'll get a response.