In a pointed letter to Mayor Ted Wheeler, civil liberties groups criticized the police response to the May Day protests, blaming the Portland Police Bureau for inflaming hours of downtown havoc that were broadcast nationwide.
“PPB’s response precipitated it, turning a peaceful march into a dangerous and chaotic situation,” the letter from the ACLU of Oregon, the National Lawyers Guild and Lawyers for Good Government states.
First-hand accounts from our legal observers and march organizers make it clear that there was very little violence or property destruction prior to the cancellation of the permit. Instead of handling the limited and isolated incidents appropriately, PPB created chaos by canceling a permitted march in progress without communicating to the participants, many of whom were families, children, and people with mobility issues.
Specifically, the ACLU criticized the bureau’s hasty use of “flashbang grenades and chemical munitions,” which it says “fan[ned] the flames of division and embolden[ed] those who seek to use protests, rallies, or marches as the platform for vandalism.”
Black Bloc and its trash can spiders were out in force on May Day, and some protesters hurled Pepsi cans at police and committed acts of vandalism prior to the declaration of a riot.
The ACLU also criticized Wheeler personally for going back on a campaign pledge.
“We call on the Mayor to keep his promise to de-militarize Portland’s police force and adopt a city policy that focuses on de-escalation, clear communication, and protecting First Amendment rights,” the letter, which can be read in full here, said.
Wheeler spokesman Michael Cox responded by blaming the chaos on anarchists with ill intent.
“It is unfortunate that a day dedicated to honoring the contributions of workers and immigrants was co-opted by people whose objective was violence and property damage, and it’s disappointing that this pattern of events has become the norm. As a community we must continue to respect the right to free assembly while rejecting violence and vandalism.”