The city has finally taken a stand on the protest camp that’s been occupying space next to an US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building on SW Macadam. In an afternoon press conference, Mayor Ted Wheeler asked the Occupy ICE PDX camp, which is currently on TriMet property, to pack up and go home. It’s the first comment Wheeler’s made about the encampment since it appeared five weeks ago, when he swore the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) wouldn’t be getting involved. The city plans to post notices at the campsite today asking that the protesters leave, according to Wheeler.
His change of heart comes after alt-right group Patriot Prayer made a camp visit and after a splintering off of protest groups still at the camp.
Wheeler previously had a very hands-off approach to the protest, allegedly refusing to respond to calls for service in the area. That approach led to one business shutting down operation, after repeated calls to the police about harassment from protesters allegedly went unanswered.
"This demonstration is no longer on federal property," Wheeler said at the press conference. "It's time to move onto the second phase of this, to something more sustainable." The demonstration, however, was removed from federal property nearly a month ago. It’s unclear why Wheeler waited until today to take action.
Wheeler said the occupation is also limiting access to Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU)—one of many stated reasons that the city plans to shut the camp on TriMet property down. Neither OHSU or TriMet have released statements on the city’s decision.
Wheeler also suggested that Patriot Prayer's appearance at the Occupy protest last Friday led to the decision. The group’s visit was the first time PPB officers were sent to the Occupy ICE camp since it set up five weeks ago. “We’re concerned about that kind of activity bleeding over into other situations,” he said of Patriot Prayer's visit, implying concern that the protesters could become violent.
Wheeler's last explanation is a safety concern—the protesters have wooden structures that the mayor considers unsafe. "We have said the Occupy camp is not sustainable, especially with the wooden structures," he said, reading from a hand-written statement during the press conference.
It is still unclear how the police will respond if protesters refuse to vacate the encampment before deadline. The mayor's chief of staff Michael Cox warned reporters before the conference that there would be no answers on police response. “Everyone will have a million versions of the same question, 'what are the cops going to do,' and we’re not going to be able to answer that,” he said.
While PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw was present at the afternoon meeting, she did not speak once during the conference. Wheeler did not answer questions related to police response during the press conference, calling them "hypothetical questions."
In a statement sent the media earlier this afternoon, one faction of the protesters who call themselves #AbolishICEPDX announced it would, essentially, be leaving the camp and continuing its work to Abolish ICE using different tactics. The message indicated that the remaining protesters don’t truly represent the immigrant community.
At the press conference, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said she supported the decision for #AbolishICEPDX to leave camp. “We're hoping the other faction follows suit," she said.
The remaining protesters, however, say they're not going anywhere. Here's how they responded to Wheeler's announcement: