Police in Portland have been trying to control and suppress rioting for over 100 days. Now Mayor Ted Wheeler has told police to stop using tear gas.
Wheeler instructed his officers to give up this method of keeping peace even after rioters tried to set his apartment building on fire, forcing him to move house in order to protect the other residents and families in the building.
Wheeler said "It's time for everyone to reduce the violence in our community. We all want change. We all have the opportunity and the obligation to create change. We all want to focus on the fundamental issue at hand. Justice for black people and all people and colour.
"That's why as police commissioner, effective immediately, and until further notice I'm directing the Portland Police Bureau to end the use of CS gas for crowd control."
Instead, he asks that a more less-lethal method of crowd control be implemented to prevent the rioters from committing arson, murder, and violent acts. This despite the fact that riots have plagued Portland for over 100 days.
The Portland Police Bureau had only been permitted to use the gas in life saving emergencies.
Wheeler told rioters that "if they're launching the tear gas against you, they’re launching the tear gas against me."
With Wheeler and the police at odds, it is uncertain how riots will be controlled in the city, especially since they have barely been controlled at all since May. Wheeler has simply declared that "we need something different. We need it now."
Protests erupted after the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25, and those protests turned to riots in more that 220 US cities. Wheeler has tried to appease protestors and rioters by basically doing whatever they’ve asked him to do, other than resign. He participated in a "struggle session" himself, when he went out to a riot in July and heard the concerns of his rioting constituents.
Antifa agitators and BLM activists in Portland had claimed that the violence in that city would decrease if federal agents left the city and stopped their protection of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse. The courthouse had been a focal point of the riots and protests, but since federal agents took their non-lethal munitions and went home, the violence has not abated. Instead, rioters have taken their fight to other locations in the city.
Police described Wheeler's decision as "reckless and shortsighted," according to The Oregonian. Oregon State Police Capt. Timothy Fox stated that he is considering a withdrawal of his organization's support.
"We will not force our troopers into this untenable situation and limit their ability to defend themselves and others," Fox said.
Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, countered that this is "going to blow up in [Wheeler’s] face." The ban, he believes, would push police into employing greater physical force to maintain order.
The American Civil Liberties Union said that "tear gas is cruel, dangerous, indiscriminate, and has been used to try to silence people who are protesting for racial justice," adding that "it should never have been used."
Trying to balance these disparate interests, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell empathized with officers' frustrations, fears for their safety and that of the public, by promising that he "will continue to do everything to support" the police.
"Decisions about police response will be made with [police] safety at the forefront of our minds, so that you can serve the community the way they deserve."
Non-lethal weapons and crowd control measures were introduced into police departments in order to give officers an alternative to lethal force. Removing the non-lethal tactics leaves officers with firearms and clubs, with which they are still outfitted.
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