A palpably angry Mayor Ted Wheeler today pledged a zero-tolerance policy toward property destruction by "violent antifa and anarchists… rampaging through Portland," and demanded the Oregon Legislature increase criminal penalties for repeat vandalism offenders.
"My good-faith efforts at deescalation have been met with scorn by antifa and anarchists bent on destruction," Wheeler said. "It's time to push back harder."
The Jan. 1 press conference followed a New Year's Eve in which several dozen protesters shot fireworks at the Multnomah County Justice Center, riot police deployed tear gas at the small crowd, and masked rioters shattered windows in downtown Portland.
The vandalism of downtown shops has become a repeated feature at racial justice protests that started this summer in Portland. Calls to defund the Portland Police Bureau, at first met with budget reductions, are now ignored by city officials, and the number of protesters has dwindled—and their tactics have radicalized.
In his remarks, Wheeler described the holiday vandalism as the last straw after a year of civil unrest, and pledged to "change the dynamic" in 2021. He expressed bafflement at the actions of protesters, apparently leftists, who repeatedly smash windows and spray-paint buildings after rallies where they demand a reduction of funding to the Police Bureau.
"Why? This is the hardest of all questions to answer. Why would a group of largely white, young and some middle-aged men destroy the livelihoods of others struggling to get by? It's the height of selfishness.
"There are just some people on this planet who are bent on criminal destruction," the mayor continued. "There are just some people who want to watch the world burn."
Wheeler pledged to convene federal, state and local law enforcement "as soon as next week" to adopt a coordinated response to property destruction. He asked the Legislature to increase criminal penalties for people convicted of repeatedly damaging buildings. And he suggested that those convicted should be required to meet with their victims, to understand how vandalism wrecks the livelihoods of shop owners.
Wheeler was joined by Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, Police Chief Chuck Lovell, and City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who was sworn into office today.
Mapps, while also condemning the vandalism, tried a different tone, asking that people who damage property to send a political message reconsider.
"We already have a vaccine for violence," he said. "That vaccine already courses through your heart. And, of course, that vaccine is love."