Portland’s mayor faced a hostile crowd of protesters Wednesday night, who screamed at and sharply questioned him as he tried to rally demonstrators after they clashed repeatedly with federal agents sent in by President Donald Trump to quell ongoing unrest in the city.
“I want to thank the thousands of you who have come out to oppose the Trump administration’s occupation of this city,” Mayor Ted 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 front line here in Portland.”
The Democratic 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 most, who yelled and swore at him.
Wheeler struggled Wednesday night to be heard over a crushing crowd that gave him just a few feet on a street corner and surrounded him as he walked there to speak.
Holding just a microphone attached to a speaker with a cord, Wheeler called it a “listening session” and opened up for questions after a few minutes — but it was unclear if anyone could hear over the angry crowd. About 20 feet (6.1 meters) away, Black Lives Matter speakers rallied a crowd of several thousand.
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 was killed. Others, including business leaders, have condemned Wheeler for not bringing the situation under control before the agents showed up.
While taking questions Wednesday night Wheeler was criticized for the actions of his own police department, not defunding the local police 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.” Some speakers praised the mayor for standing with them and there were cheers along with boos and obscenities as Wheeler and many in the crowd chanted “Black lives matter!”
Earlier Wednesday, the City Council banned police from cooperating with federal agents or arresting reporters or legal observers.
Wheeler’s tense nighttime appearance downtown came hours after attorneys for Oregon urged a judge to issue a restraining order against agents deployed to quell the protests.
The arguments from the state and the U.S. government came in a lawsuit filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who accuses federal agents of arresting protesters without probable cause, whisking them away in unmarked cars and using excessive force. Federal authorities have disputed those allegations.
The lawsuit is part of the growing pushback to Trump sending federal agents to Portland and announcing they would be going to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to fight rising crime, a move that’s deepening the country’s political divide and potentially setting up a constitutional crisis months ahead of the presidential election. Democratic mayors of 15 cities condemned the use of federal officers in a letter to the U.S. attorney general.