By Carlos Zeta
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw found themselves in the political hot seat during the City Council’s Wednesday meeting. Following an agenda item discussing the ongoing housing shortage in Portland, Mayor Wheeler rolled from one hot issue to the next by presenting his protest ordinance proposal in conjunction with City Attorney John Taylor.
The proposed ordinance grants Police Commissioner authority to restrict protests using a “time, place, and manner” criteria in response to recent repeated demonstrations by right-wing Vancouver based group Patriot Prayer and their interactions with counter-demonstrators. Although every instance of past violence cited in Mayor Wheeler’s ordinance proposal stemmed from planned, organized demonstrations by Patriot Prayer, Mayor Wheeler failed to name the group directly as the source of the issue. Police Chief Danielle Outlaw also danced around the underlying issue, citing concerns for safety, but in the same pattern refusing to name individual actors. Chief Outlaw repeatedly cited a need for “more tools” to police protestors.
Following Mayor Wheeler’s explanation for requesting the proposed ordinance to be put onto the City Council Agenda for discussion, the Council voted unanimously to discuss further. Two three-member panels presented arguments to the Council, the first in support of the proposed ordinance, and the second in opposition.
The first panel consisted of Portland Business Alliance President Andrew Hoan and Travel Portland’s Steve Faulstick, who cited concerns about the image of Portland to outsiders and how violent protests might affect the ability of business owners to generate revenue.
The third member of the pro-ordinance panel, Oregon House Representative Janelle Bynum, also a Portland Business Alliance member, cited a concern that demonstrations requiring a large Portland Police presence downtown were effectively creating a manpower shortage. She asserted that this translated into overall longer police emergency response times in her East Portland district.
The opposition to the ordinance consisted of Kimberly McCullough of the American Civil Liberties Union, Beth Wooten representing the National Lawyers Guild, and Portland City Commissioner-Elect Jo Ann Hardesty. McCullough effectively pointed out that the court case standard City Attorneys were relying on to draft the proposed protest ordinance, was not as directly transferable as implied. McCullough explained that since the circumstances in the case Menotti v. The city of Seattle, a case stemming from the World Trade Organization protests of the 1990’s, was drastically different than the recurring demonstrations of Patriot Prayer, a parallel emergency ordinance does not properly apply. NLG representative Beth Wooten also chimed in stating that although “time, place, and manner” restrictions on demonstrations had been historically found to be constitutional, relying on police to enforce such restrictions creates circumstances dangerous for protesters and citizens in close proximity to protests. Wooten also made a comment that the facts asserted in the ordinance proposal regarding police conduct and the conduct of counter-protestors to Patriot Prayer events were not backed with evidentiary support.
Commissioner-Elect Jo Ann Hardesty had no hesitation in stating her concerns regarding Portland Police Bureau’s response or lack of response to what she bluntly described as “out of town hate groups”.
Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly also did not hesitate to address the underlying issue with a line of questioning that put City Attorney John Taylor and Portland Police higher-ups on the defensive. Eudaly asked whether counter-demonstrators to far-right extremists were always the group asked to disperse to which Deputy Chief Bob Dupay could not give comment to whether counter-demonstrators were “always” the ones being asked to disperse. Eudaly followed up with a request for PPB to provide evidence to show that counter-demonstrators to Patriot Prayer’s August 4, 2018 event had in fact thrown projectiles at police prior to dispersal orders; a direct challenge to the assertion made in the proposed ordinance. Eudaly closed out the session stating that she would like to see a concerted community effort to shut right-wing extremists down and that she needed her colleagues at every level of government to speak out against hate and specifically against the hate groups that are targeting our city.
Although at times Commissioner Eudaly struggled to put her commentary into a proper questioning format, her words no doubt resonated with the group of concerned Portland observers that cheered her on in a viewing room adjacent to Portland City Hall Chambers.