Mayor Ted Wheeler outlined a new city ordinance today that would tighten rules around protests prone to violence.
The ordinance, announced days after downtown Portland witnessed yet another violent clash between right-wing and left-wing protesters, would put the police commissioner in charge of determining if a planned protest will become a threat to public safety based on "statements or conduct" by members of any protesting groups or based on "other credible information" obtained by police before the event. (A reminder: Wheeler is currently the police commissioner.)
If a protest is deemed dangerous by these new rules, the proposed ordinance allows the police commissioner to decide what time, how long, and where the slated protest will take place—along with how many participants are allowed to participate in the demonstration.
Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon, has already raised concerns about the constitutionality of this proposal.
“The mayor’s proposal grants broad authority to the mayor’s office to regulate constitutionally-protected speech and assembly with no meaningful oversight for abuse," said dos Santos in a press statement. "This action by the mayor demonstrates a lack of trust in the public and is an end-run around our usual democratic processes."
Dos Santos adds that, "Inevitably, this ordinance will get challenged in court."
At an afternoon press conference, Wheeler said he would like to bring the proposed ordinance before city council for a vote as soon as possible.
Not all city leaders are on board.
"My office received the Mayor's proposed ordinance... two hours before the press conference that just took place," said Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in a press release sent shortly after Wheeler's announcement. "This did not afford us enough time to review or meaningfully discuss the policy thoroughly."
Eudaly said that while she shares Wheeler's concerns with these violent rallies, she is "very reluctant" to support a policy that may infringe on Portlander's constitutional rights.
"There is a legitimate balance to be struck between public safety and free speech," Eudaly went on. "In my view, this begins with an acknowledgment that in our city, although our policies must be content-neutral, it is far-right extremists and hate groups who are necessitating these measures."
In the past, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has pushed a "both sides" narrative about the reoccurring public brawls between Patriot Prayer, Vancouver's alt-right provocateurs, and Portland anti-fascist—or antif—groups.
In a radio interview following an August 4 Patriot Prayer protest, PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw explained: "It’s a little bit on both sides, but you might see that one side was impacted a little bit more than the other. But we don’t go into it saying we’ll provide special treatment to anybody."
There is proven evidence that both members of antifa and Patriot Prayer have assaulted each other at these protests. But many say the response from Portland protesters is defensive—and is the necessary response when neither the city nor PPB have banned the out-of-state protesters from inciting violence in Portland's public spaces in every few months.
And, after today's press conference, there is proof that PPB doesn't always share violent threats posed by Patriot Prayer members with the public. At the press conference, PPB Assistant Chief Ryan Lee detailed how several Patriot Prayer-affiliated individuals brought a cache of loaded firearms to the top of a parking garage in downtown Portland prior to the group's August 4th protest.
Officers confiscated their weapons, which they all had permits to carry, but did not charge or arrest the individuals. While PPB shared an abundance of information online about other weapons confiscated by officers that day, this was the first time PPB have mentioned this incident.
Asked why PPB withheld this information from the public for two months, Outlaw responded: "Hindsight is always perfect."
Update 2:00 pm, October 16:
The three other city commissioners have shared their thoughts on Wheeler's proposed ordinance with the Mercury.
In an emailed statement, Commissioner Nick Fish said that while Wheeler's so-called "time, place, manner regulations" may help improve public safety during protests, he has "a number of legal and policy questions about the proposal" he'd like to discuss with Wheeler and the City Attorney's Office before backing the ordinance.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz said she met with the City Attorney's Office before Wheeler's press conference and is prepared to "work collaboratively with the mayor and rest of council to ensure that we pursue a policy solution that is constitutional, enforceable, accountable, and addresses the needs of our community."
"Any solution must be developed with community input – this is a community issue, and Portlanders are vital stakeholders whose rights and opinions must be considered," Fritz said in a statement sent to the Mercury. "The city is responsible for the safety of all Portlanders. We must end these confrontations without damaging free speech and assembly rights guaranteed in the State and Federal Constitutions."
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, meanwhile, is completely on board with Wheeler's proposal.
“I fully support Mayor Wheeler’s effort to take this action and believe his proposed ordinance is an excellent proposal to best accommodate public expression and promote order," said Saltzman in an emailed statement. "The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that local governments may place reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of individual expression and this must be done sooner rather than later. Let us dispense with long protracted debates that will consume a lot of oxygen and lead us nowhere."