Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler offered few tangible insights during a press conference on Monday—his first since alt-right and left-wing protestors violently clashed at a June 29 protest in downtown Portland. But Wheeler, fresh from an international vacation that started before June 29, did defend a controversial tweet sent out by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) during the rallies.
The left-wing faction present at the protest handed out vegan milkshakes to its participants, some of whom chose to throw their drinks at alt-right demonstrators. Midway through the day, PPB tweeted that some of these milkshakes reportedly contained quick-drying cement.
Police have received information that some of the milkshakes thrown today during the demonstration contained quick-drying cement. We are encouraging anyone hit with a substance today to report it to police.
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) June 29, 2019
PPB later revealed that the tweet was based off of a lone officer’s observation that a milkshake looked like it might contain cement, and no further evidence has surfaced to support the claim. But the false statement was retweeted 14,000 times and referenced in national and international news reports—becoming part of the official narrative of the protest, despite no proof of its veracity.
“Ah, the milkshake again,” Wheeler said, when asked by the Mercury whether he thought PPB acted responsibly by posting the tweet.
“The police were trying to give real-time information to the public,” said Wheeler, who also serves as Portland's police commissioner. “In retrospect, they would probably agree that the word ‘may’ or ‘possibly’ probably should have been included in that tweet, but their intention, I believe, was to give the public more real-time information in the interest of transparency.”
Wheeler’s response echoed a statement made to reporters last week by Robert King, Wheeler's police liaison. King defended the tweet, and said it was sent in an effort to share “as much information as possible.”
Organizers with left-wing group Population Mobilization (also known as PopMob), which provided the milkshakes, told reporters they received death threats after PPB sent out the tweet.
Wheeler did, however, take issue with recent words from Daryl Turner, the president of Portland’s police union. In an online statement last week, Turner called on Wheeler to “remove the handcuffs from our officers and let them stop the violence through strong and swift enforcement action.”
Wheeler called Turner’s statement—and its implication that Wheeler prevents the PPB from doing its job—“misinformation,” and characterized Turner's post as tinder for the national right-wing outrage currently facing the city.
“At the end of the day, Daryl Turner and I want the same thing,” Wheeler said. “But he crossed a line when he publicly stated in a Facebook message that I was not allowing police to enforce the law.”
Wheeler used the press conference as an opportunity to generally condemn violence in Portland, and told reporters he was looking into new ideas to prevent future protests from becoming violent. He did not say whether he supports Police Chief Danielle Outlaw’s suggestion to bring an anti-masking law to Portland. Some cities use anti-mask laws to discourage anonymous violence, but there are questions as to how they can be enforced constitutionally.
Wheeler said he wasn’t yet in a position to name specific ideas for how to deal with future protests, but noted that he would not be re-submitting last year’s failed protest safety ordinance to the Portland City Council.
When asked for a timeline of when he would announce new protest strategies, Wheeler wouldn’t name dates, but did say there is “a sense of urgency that I have about this.”