City officials say Portlanders should expect a hands-off approach from the Portland Police Bureau ahead of anticipated clashes this weekend between far-right groups and leftist counterprotesters.
“We are dedicated to keeping the peace. Our ask is simple: We are asking you to choose love,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said during a Friday afternoon press conference. “People should not necessarily expect to see the police standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart. People need to keep themselves apart and avoid physical confrontation.”
Wheeler is referring to an Aug. 22 event organized by several right-wing groups including the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer. The gathering was initially slated to occur in downtown Tom McCall Waterfront Park, but event organizers on Friday posted to social media that the event has relocated, and that the new location will be announced Sunday morning.
The event lands exactly one year after a “Say No to Marxism” gathering in 2020, where some far-right activists deployed bear mace and brandished loaded firearms during skirmishes with anti-fascist counterprotesters. Portland police mostly stood by and allowed violent brawls to proceed without intervention, including not attempting to arrest known Proud Boy Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who had an active warrant for his arrest at the time.
That’s an approach the Police Bureau appears comfortable replicating. During Friday’s press conference, Chief Chuck Lovell said it isn’t “the best tactical approach” for police to wade into violent crowds to intervene, and that the bureau is more likely to make arrests after the event has concluded.
“You should not expect to see police officers standing in the middle of crowds trying to keep people apart. Remember: Arrests do not always happen in the moment,” Lovell said. “If you’re considering coming downtown to fight, threaten people or participate in violence: Stay away. If people do engage in violent activity or property destruction, they face arrest and prosecution.”
Lovell added that the bureau evaluates scenarios on a case-by-case basis when deciding whether to intervene in a brawl, and that the most likely reason for intervention would be “to protect someone who has maybe a life-safety type [of] issue going on in a conflict.”
Wheeler, who is the police commissioner, and Lovell condemned groups and individuals arriving in Portland this weekend who seek out violence or property destruction. But both officials declined to name any of the organizations they are referring to.
“I don’t know that it’s appropriate for me to name the specific groups,” Lovell said. “But we’ve seen here many times groups with different political ideations or affiliations come to Portland and have violent clashes or interactions with each other.”
The pair also declined to say whether they consider any of the groups to be domestic terrorist organizations. (Canada, for example, added the Proud Boys to its list of terrorist entities in February following the Jan. 6 failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.)
“Being designated as a terrorist organization is a formal designation. That’s beside the larger point that we’re here to address today,” Wheeler said. “Anyone who comes into our community and is spreading their hate, their racism, their xenophobia, their white supremacist predilections: All of that is very intimidating to people who are here, particularly people of color. It causes people to be fearful....It’s counterproductive.”
As WW reported Thursday, questions loom about what the police response will look like following the June dissolution of PPB’s Rapid Response Team—a 50-member unit that was specially trained to respond to mass gatherings and civil unrest.
“Not having the Rapid Response Team will force us to make some changes on how we respond to major crowd control events like this may end up being,” Lovell said. “That team was highly trained for responding in a coordinated manner to all types of civil unrest.”
He added, however, that all sworn PPB officers have undergone crowd management training, and that many have experience working on a coordinated team. Lovell said the bureau can deploy “mobile field forces,” which typically consist of patrol officers who can step into a crowd control role.
“I just want to reiterate,” he said, “we’re not going to deploy people to stand in a line or in the middle of violent groups to keep people apart where it doesn’t make tactical sense to do so.”
Lovell said personnel from the Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office will be “providing assistance where they can,” but that the bureau has not sought out assistance from the Oregon National Guard. He added that PPB has 145 fewer officers than it did last year, and that the bureau has canceled all days off for all personnel, including him.
“Sunday is an all-hands day,” Lovell said. “All available personnel will report for duty.”