Portland City Commissioners, Surprised By Mayor’s Proposed Crackdown On Protest Violence, Call for More Public Process

"As a strong advocate for freedom of speech, expression, and assembly I am very reluctant to support a policy that could infringe in any way on these essential constitutional rights," says Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.

Protesters in downtown Portland on Aug. 4, 2018. (Sam Gehrke)

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler surprised the city with a sudden move to snuff out violence ignited repeatedly at right-wing protests for nearly two years.

He also surprised the rest of City Hall.

The four city commissioners who will vote on the mayor's proposal to expand police power to control rowdy protests say they were not consulted before the ordinance was announced Monday afternoon.

Three of them say they want to hear from community members before they pass final judgement on the proposal. But Commissioner Dan Saltzman says enough is enough.

"Let us dispense with long, protracted debates that will consume a lot of oxygen and lead us nowhere," he says.

The rule change would allow Portland officials to place restrictions on the time, location and duration of protests in the city that pose a risk to public safety, particularly when they involve two or more groups with a history of violent clashes.

Recent street brawls pushed Wheeler's office to begin working with the Portland Police Bureau and the City Attorney's Office on the proposal. They started after the Aug. 4 rally that ended when police shot riot control agents at a crowd of antifascist protesters who had gathered to oppose right-wing Patriot Prayer.

Here's how each of the city commissioners reacted to the mayor's proposal:

Commissioner Dan Saltzman

"The current situation is untenable and strong action must be taken. With the street brawls and violent scrums we have seen occurring in downtown Portland over the past 2 years, action is needed as it is just a matter of time before lives are lost. 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. Let us dispense with long protracted debates that will consume a lot of oxygen and lead us nowhere. Let's take this reasonable action to protect all who live work and play in Portland."

Commissioner Amanda Fritz

"I appreciate that Mayor Wheeler has invited the Council to set policy on how to address escalating conflict between demonstrators. 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.  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.

"I will work collaboratively with the Mayor and the rest of Council to ensure that we pursue a policy solution that is constitutional, enforceable, accountable, and addresses the needs of our community. While I hope we can find a solution that all of Council can support as early as next Wednesday, I believe the process of reaching that outcome will be crucial to the policy's success."

Commissioner Nick Fish

"We all want to live in a community that is safe for peaceful demonstrations. And I agree that recent behavior on our streets has been unacceptable. It's possible that we need another tool in our toolkit to ensure safety in our public spaces. And time, place, manner regulations may be the right approach.

"However, I have a number of legal and policy questions about the proposal, which I intend to raise with the Mayor and the City Attorney. I look forward to a broader discussion with my colleagues and key stakeholders before we take any further action."

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly

"I share the Mayor's concern and the public's frustration with these violent and disruptive demonstrations. However, as a strong advocate for freedom of speech, expression, and assembly I am very reluctant to support a policy that could infringe in any way on these essential constitutional rights.

"I do agree that we need to create a strategy to prevent groups intent on spreading fear in and provoking violence from harming our residents and disrupting and doing damage to our city. There is a legitimate balance to be struck between public safety and free speech. 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."

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