Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler wants tougher penalties for people repeatedly caught engaging in violence and vandalism, wants police officers to have more tools to investigate protest-related violence and promises tougher policing against demonstrators who break the law.
That was the mayor’s response to a New Year’s Eve riot in downtown Portland that included broken windows, small fires and commercial-grade fireworks fired at public buildings.
Wheeler said the violence and vandalism had no clear political purposes. He blamed “violent antifa and anarchists” and described participants as largely white and young.
“It’s hard for most of us to even comprehend what goes on in the heads of people who think it’s OK or a good idea to go on a violent rampage through the city on New Year’s Eve and during a pandemic,” Wheeler said at a Friday afternoon press conference. “It’s the height of selfishness. … There are some people who just want to watch the world burn.”
Around 100 people gathered in the same general area as the summer’s many demonstrations against police violence Thursday night. Some in the crowd launched fireworks at the Federal Courthouse and the Multnomah County Justice Center and threw rocks, bricks and frozen water bottles at officers who responded. Windows were broken at several downtown businesses. Portland police said several items resembling Molotov cocktails were thrown, and multiple small fires were set.
Police declared the event a riot and used smoke and impact munitions to
disperse the crowd.
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell both described their officers as being “under attack” Thursday night. Lovell said three people have been arrested on charges stemming from Thursday night’s violence.
Wheeler said the Portland police are working with District Attorney Mike Schmidt to charge the people responsible. He plans to convene a meeting as soon as next week with federal, state and local law enforcement officials to discuss ways to “develop clear plans to address anarchist violence both here in Portland and throughout the state.”
He also called on the state legislature to increase the penalties for people repeatedly found to have committed criminal destruction and vandalism and to give police more leeway to videotape demonstrators and “otherwise gather intelligence on these small groups of organized criminals.” That suggestion is sure to raise concerns among civil liberty groups.
Wheeler also wants people convicted of vandalizing businesses to be required to meet with owners and employees and to perform community service aimed at repairing damage they’ve caused.
“These people need to hear and understand the social and human consequences of their irresponsible actions,” he said.