Earlier in the night, Wheeler was jeered as he tried to rally demonstrators who have clashed nightly with federal agents but was briefly applauded when he shouted “Black Lives Matter” and pumped his fist in the air. The mayor has opposed federal agents’ presence in Oregon’s largest city, but he has faced harsh criticism from many sides and his presence wasn’t welcomed by many, who yelled and swore at him.
“I want to thank the thousands of you who have come out to oppose the Trump administration’s occupation of this city,” Wheeler told hundreds of people gathered downtown near the federal courthouse. “The reason this is important is it is not just happening in Portland ... we’re on the frontline here in Portland.”
Some Portland residents, including City Council members, have accused Wheeler of not reining in local police, who have used tear gas multiple times before federal agents arrived early this month in response to nearly two months of nightly protests since George Floyd died. Others, including business leaders, have condemned Wheeler for not bringing the situation under control before the agents showed up.
Protesters in the crowd held signs aloft that read “Tear Gas Ted” in reference to the Portland Police Bureau’s use of the substance before federal agents arrived. When the mayor left the protest, about 12:40 a.m., some protesters surrounded him and shouted angrily at him as he walked away. One person shouted, “You’ve got to be here every single night!”
While taking questions Wednesday night — and before he was tear gassed — Wheeler was criticized for the actions of his own police department, not defunding the local police, national movement that seeks to redirect funds from policing to community needs such as housing and education, and not having Portland police protect people from federal agents. The mayor said he wants to use the energy of the protests to make changes.
Wheeler then addressed the much larger crowd from a raised balcony, saying "I am here tonight to stand with you."
Earlier Wednesday, the City Council banned police from cooperating with federal agents or arresting reporters or legal observers.
Also Wednesday, Trump announced he will send federal agents to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to help combat rising crime, expanding the administration’s intervention into local enforcement, as he runs for reelection under a “law and order” mantle.
Trump painted Democrat-led cities as out of control and lashed out at the “radical left,” which he blamed for rising violence in some cities, even though criminal justice experts say it defies easy explanation.
“In recent weeks, there has been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police department,” Trump said Wednesday at a White House event, blaming the movement for “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence.”
“This bloodshed must end,” he said. “This bloodshed will end.”
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With less than four months until Election Day, Trump has been warning that violence will worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November and Democrats have a chance to make the police reforms they have endorsed after Floyd’s death and nationwide protests demanding racial justice.
On Thursday, a judge will hear arguments in a legal challenge that the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of journalists and legal observers who say they were targeted and attacked by Portland police while documenting demonstrations.
A freelance photographer covering the protests for The Associated Press submitted an affidavit that he was beaten with batons, chemical irritants and hit with rubber bullets.
A U.S. judge previously ruled that journalists and legal observers are exempt from police orders requiring protesters to disperse once an unlawful assembly has been declared. Federal lawyers say journalists should have to leave when ordered.
The ACLU filed another lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of volunteer medics who have been attending to injured protesters. It alleges that federal agents have used rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, batons and stun grenades against medics in violation of federal protections for freedom of speech and freedom of movement.
The move comes at the same time Democratic mayors of several cities, including Atlanta’s Keisha Lance Bottoms, have signed a letter calling on Trump to refrain from deploying federal agents to quell protests. The letter, which is undated and addressed to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, notes Trump has threatened to send agents into Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.