Ahead of a series of protests that should see thousands of people spilling into Portland streets, Mayor Ted Wheeler is drawing a few lines in the sand.
As organizers prepare to protest the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump on Friday, and then again on Saturday, Wheeler today laid out three scenarios in which police will absolutely intervene: If demonstrators seek to take the freeway, block MAX trains, or incite vandalism or violence.
"Vandalism hurts our community," Wheeler said at a news conference, flanked by Police Chief Mike Marshman, Portland Business Alliance CEO Sandra McDonough, and event organizers behind a Women's March planned on Saturday. "Most businesses are in fact local businesses."
It was a clear allusion to a demonstration on November 10, two nights after Trump was elected, when a small contingent of self-identified anarchists engaged in widespread vandalism in the Pearl District, and took bats to cars at a Toyota dealership on NE Broadway. On that night—as on a night before, when Portland police preemptively shut down Interstate 5 in preparation for a small sea of marchers—the city's police leadership showed notable restraint in their dealings with demonstrators.
That wasn't the case in subsequent nights, and Wheeler and Marshman indicated today that cops wouldn't tolerate serious disruptions or any vandalism.
"Clearly the police bureau is more prepared to handle acts of vandalism and violence" than in November, Wheeler told the Mercury. Regarding transit disruptions, he said: "What I heard from lots of people is, 'I missed my shift.' It impacts lower-income workers. We don't need to allow those things to happen in order to have a peaceful protest."
The new mayor's message was not so different from that of his predecessor, Charlie Hales, who in the aftermath of election day also pledged his commitment to citizens' First Amendment rights, and urged demonstrators to exercise those rights safely and peacefully.
"Didn't work," Marshman acknowledged to the Mercury this afternoon, "but we try."
Marshman said that in the wake of Trump's unexpected election, the police bureau "tried to respond slower than normal. Tried to give people an opportunity to self-police. With this one, people have had time to gear up, so it’s going to be different."
As I suggested in this week's paper, the upcoming protests mark the first serious test Wheeler will face as the city's police commissioner. And in protest-happy Portland, they'll set something of a precedent for how he handles disruptions in months and years to come (not that he's not free to change his stance).
Here's a list of protests and other demonstrations planned this week. The biggies are the rally and march being planned by the group Portland's Resistance. It begins at 3:30 pm Friday, at Pioneer Courthouse Square, and as one of its organizers told the Mercury recently, it's adamantly without a permit.
Another, probably larger Women's March on Portland begins at noon on Saturday, at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. That one's got a permit, and will feature a series of speakers before the planned march sets off.