Portland mayor tear gassed alongside protesters

The mayor of Portland, Ore., was hit with tear gas Wednesday night after he joined a crowd of protesters who gathered outside a federal courthouse as tensions persisted in the city in response to the Trump administration's deployment of federal officers.

Video shared on social media showed Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) coughing and retrieving goggles as a haze of gas overwhelmed a crowd that was protesting behind a fence located in front of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse.

Wheeler did not leave his spot at the front of the demonstration after tear gas was unleashed, The Associated Press reported

ADVERTISEMENT

"I’m not afraid, but I am pissed off," Wheeler told The New York Times at the site of the protest. "This is an egregious overreaction on the part of the federal officers."

The mayor said that the protesters had done nothing to provoke such a response from federal officers, adding that the tactics would only intensify tensions. 

"This is not a de-escalation strategy. This is flat-out urban warfare," Wheeler said. "And it's being wrought on the people of this country by the president of the United States and it's got to stop." 

Wheeler had earlier in the evening addressed the protesters before standing side by side with them. In a speech to the crowd, he shouted "Black lives matter" and thanked the thousands who had protested in the city to "oppose the Trump administration’s occupation of this city."

ADVERTISEMENT

But his presence was also the source of frustration for many demonstrators, according to the reports.

Some threw rocks at the mayor and called for him to resign, while others chanted “Tear Gas Teddy.” He also faced jeers from the crowd after declining to make a pledge to defund the police, a popular demand that has gained traction in nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

The Portland Police Department said in a statement that some protesters lit fireworks as Wheeler addressed the crowd. People began throwing flammables and "other incendiaries" over a fence located on the west side of the courthouse following the mayor's speech, police said, adding that it eventually started a fire. 

The department noted that after some protesters breached the fence, federal officers, clad in camouflage, exited the courthouse and "began to disperse the crowd." The police declared a riot early Thursday morning due to what it described as violent conduct from a large group that gathered near the courthouse. No arrests were made. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Federal agencies were dispatched to Portland earlier this month as Trump vowed to protect federal property and monuments. Demonstrations in Portland have occurred daily for nearly two months.  

The presence of federal law enforcement has been met with strong pushback from protesters and local public officials, including Wheeler. 

“Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism, and it’s not helping the situation at all. They're not wanted here," the mayor said on CNN earlier this week. "We haven't asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave."

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) has also sued several federal agencies for the alleged illegal detainment of citizens without probable cause. The lawsuit specifically cites Mark Pettibone, a man who was apprehended by officers in military fatigues as he walked through downtown Portland. 

The president and Trump administration officials have defended the use of federal agencies in the city. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Watch live: Acting DHS chief testifies on deployment of federal agents to protests The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal MORE said Tuesday that the federal agents would not "retreat," arguing that "we will not shrink from our duty because of this violence." 

Trump has also suggested that he's prepared to send federal agents to cities such as Chicago, New York and other major cities experiencing unrest. Those comments prompted a group of mayors, representing cities including Boston, Washington, D.C., and Oakland, Calif., to demand the administration stop any plans to send federal agents to their cities.