The Portland Police Bureau says there is no evidence to suggest Election Day demonstrations in this city will block streets, cause disruptions or erupt into violence.
"At this time the Police Bureau has not identified information that suggests there will be a major interruption on roadways," says spokesman Sgt. Christopher Burley.
Despite the bureau's assurances that tonight's protests will likely unfold peacefully, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has suggested—in multiple tweets that might gin up fears—that roads could be blocked and that public safety could be at risk.
"Portland, we want everyone to have a safe and fun election night," he tweeted Nov. 6. "We want everyone to be able to safely exercise their 1st amendment rights. But know the laws: You cannot block streets, freeways or public transportation. And most importantly — violence will not be tolerated."
He continued: "Here's what you need to know about the demonstrations tonight. We know of at least 6 groups coming to downtown Portland. Portland Police reached out to them to have a conversation. They have not yet responded. None of the groups have applied for a permit."
Wheeler's warnings come just days before Portland City Council will discuss an ordinance that would give police more power to tell protesters when and where they can demonstrate, if the groups at the event have a history of violence. Civil rights advocates have voiced opposition to the proposed change, citing concerns that it would violate the First Amendment.
The mayor's sudden staunch opposition to protesters marching in the street without a permit marks a shift in the city's approach to peaceful events in the past. Last tear, Portland's Resistance marched during a vigil for Heather Heyer (the protester killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville last year) and sat on the Hawthorne Bridge in a moment of silence. Portland police did not intervene.
"Here is our position now," says the mayor's communications director Eileen Park. "We fully expect everyone to obey the rules of traffic and if you decide to block streets we defer to Portland police on how they want to handle that."
She adds that the mayor's office does not anticipate violence at tonight's demonstrations.
"We fully expect this to be a peaceful and safe demonstration," she says. "We are really excited and we love that people exercise their First Amendment rights. However, in the past two years we have seen violent protests erupt—sometimes planned and sometimes out of nowhere."
Last week, the mayor suggested explicitly that this week's protests will impact traffic and public transportation and urged Portlanders to "stay safe." Portland police say they do not have any evidence to support those claims.
When asked why the mayor's statements differ significantly from the Portland police's, Park claims the two agencies are "completely aligned."
"We are choosing to over-communicate about what is going to happen tonight," she says. "People are more than welcome to exercise their first amendment rights. It's just a matter of being transparent and over-communicating."
The Police Bureau says it will continue monitoring the protests, but doesn't expect problems.
"The Police Bureau will continue to gather information and work with community members who are planning on demonstrating," Burley says. "If and when information is learned that suggests there will be an impact to the community, the information will be shared via FlashAlert or through the Bureau's Twitter feed."