Layers of tear gas rising from the streets of Portland Friday night.
Layers of tear gas rising from the streets of Portland Friday night. Alex Zielinski

Last night, Friday June 5, Mayor Ted Wheeler spoke to protesters at Chapman Square after listening to their concerns about retaliatory police response on crowds, particularly tear gas, over the past week, saying “I do not like the tear gas, I think it’s ugly, it is not focused enough.” He added that “The city of Seattle late today banned the use of tear gas for 30 days except limited circumstances... we should do the same. Tomorrow, my colleagues and I will be making an announcement.” Later that evening, police bombarded crowds with tear gas and other munitions, despite the mayor's clear disliking of the practice.

This afternoon Mayor Wheeler did address the subject of tear gas, but softened his words from last night, asking the police to restrict the use rather than call for an outright ban:

Today, I directed Portland Police Chief Jami Resch that gas should not be used unless there is a serious and immediate threat to life safety, and there is no other viable alternative for dispersal. I strongly believe that gas should not be used to disperse crowds of non-violent protestors or for general crowd management purposes. It should only be used in response to violence that threatens life safety.

You can read the full text of Mayor Wheeler's statement at the bottom of this post.

Earlier this week, city commissioner Chloe Eudaly spoke out against police using tear gas on protesters in response to a particularly violent reaction from police on Tuesday June 2, advising that the city should ban it. Commission Eudaly said the following:

"The Geneva Convention banned the use of tear gas, I think we should too," she continued. "I am absolutely horrified by what I saw last night. It is sadistic to be using tear gas in the middle of a public health crisis that is attacking people's respiratory systems."

The outcry against tear gas from both the public and local politicians inspired a police press conference where Portland Police Deputy Chief Chris Davis offered up this disturbing quote:

Today the Washington Post featured an interesting article that breaks down the different weaponry that police use against protesters and the very real dangers they present. Here's what they wrote about tear gas:

“Tear gas” refers to crowd-control chemicals that irritate the mucus membranes and the eyes, causing tearing, coughing, difficulty breathing and skin irritation.

What can go wrong: Inhaled tear gas can cause inflammation, coughing, wheezing, vomiting and serious breathing difficulty, especially in people who have respiratory problems, according to Physicians for Human Rights.

This effect is particularly dangerous during a pandemic in which the virus is spread by respiratory droplets.

Canisters are supposed to be fired over the heads of crowds, but that is not always the case. A direct hit can cause blunt-trauma injuries or even death.

From last night's protest, Friday June 5:

Here is the full text of Mayor Wheeler's statement from this afternoon:

I stand in solidarity with our non-violent demonstrators, who are sending a strong message that we are long overdue for meaningful reform and restorative justice.

Our community has serious concerns about the use of CS gas for crowd management, particularly during a time when we’re battling a pandemic. I share those concerns. Today, I directed Portland Police Chief Jami Resch that gas should not be used unless there is a serious and immediate threat to life safety, and there is no other viable alternative for dispersal. I strongly believe that gas should not be used to disperse crowds of non-violent protestors or for general crowd management purposes. It should only be used in response to violence that threatens life safety. My priority and focus are to protect the lives of demonstrators, our first responders, and the people in custody at the Justice Center.

Support The Portland Mercury

I am confident that the Portland Police officers, Multnomah County Sheriff deputies, and Oregon State Police troopers on the ground will continue to acknowledge the voice of protesters and act in a way that reflects the professionalism that is expected and is a core value of our police force, as well as the law enforcement agencies supporting them. Night after night, they are doing what they can to prioritize and protect the public’s safety.

My colleagues and I are acutely aware of the urgency around these issues, and will continue to work together in the coming days to put together a package of actions that address the demands we are hearing loudly from our community.

•••••

Our small, mighty, and local team is working hard to bring you coverage from Portland's ongoing protests and policy discussions in response to the killing of George Floyd. If you are able, please consider supporting our work.