Portland, Oregon, city leaders used a “hands off” approach Aug. 22 when groups of armed protesters clashed in the city – but on Wednesday Mayor Ted Wheeler admitted it was “not the right strategy.”
“It is clear, based on the public outcry, on the media outcry, on the national front, that that strategy was not the right strategy,” Wheeler said during a Portland City Council meeting, according to The Associated Press.
“I think we can all acknowledge that,” he added. “I take full responsibility for it.”
He said Portland was still “trying to find the right recipe” for handling riots – seeking a solution somewhere between an “overwhelming police presence” and restrained law enforcement, the AP reported.
State lawmakers representing the northeast section of the city spoke out against the decision to keep police from intervening in the clash between crowds from the political left and right.
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Local residents also claimed they felt “terrorized and abandoned” as rioters in helmets and gas masks – and some armed with baseball bats and chemical guns – confronted each other.
A spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau said authorities monitored the clash from an airplane, the AP reported.
City officials warned the public in advance that police would not be intervening in the protest as a reaction to claims that police presence exacerbated crowd tensions.
Wheeler claimed immediately afterward that the strategy was a success, with few reports of harm to the broader community or to property.
“With strategic planning and oversight, the Portland Police Bureau and I mitigated confrontation between the two events and minimized the impact of the weekend’s events to Portlanders,” Wheeler said in an Aug. 23 statement.
But reaction from lawmakers and the public appeared to give Wheeler second thoughts about the approach.
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Past riots and protests that have resulted in injuries and property destruction have made the city open to trying new plans for dealing with such clashes, the mayor said.
“Portland is unique in that we seem to be ground zero for alt-right groups to come into our town because they know they’ll get a response – and they do,” Wheeler said.
The mayor’s remarks came in advance of a city council vote on a $50,000 settlement relating to a woman’s claim that she had been injured at an Aug. 4 protest when police hurled a flash-bang munition at her with no warning, the AP reported. The council approved the settlement in a unanimous vote, the report said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.