Democrats

Portland Mayor: Let Rioting ‘Burn Itself Out’

Protesters in Portland, OR, walk past a dumpster fire / Getty Images

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler (D.)—who has yet to provide his police department with consistent directives to quell the riots, arson, and looting that have plagued his city for months—told Oregon Public Radio his strategy was to let the violence "burn itself out."

Wheeler told OPR reporter Rebecca Ellis last week that he expects daily protests in the city—which began in May following the death of George Floyd—to last for some time. He said he expects nightly violence that followed the protests "will ultimately burn itself out."

The mayor, who is in charge of Portland's police force, told OPR the department will adjust to the situation on its own.

"They’ve tried everything from not showing up to preemptively dispersing crowds, and some of those strategies, in my opinion, have worked well. Others have not worked well," Wheeler said. "My expectation is the police bureau will evolve, and as they see a need for change, they’ll change."

Wheeler previously proposed to top aides a "high-risk" policing approach in which police would be ordered to stand down and not respond to rioters. He never put those measures into effect, leaving local police without clear directives in dealing with crowds, whether they are rioting, looting businesses, or setting fire to government buildings.

Portland police have made more than 500 arrests since the riots began in late May, but the violence has stretched the department thin. During one recent riot, 60 calls to 911 were left unanswered as police were deployed to respond to a riot outside of a county government building. Earlier this month, Portland district attorney Mike Schmidt said he would not prosecute hundreds of those arrested for rioting-related crimes.

The death of George Floyd in police custody sparked violent protests in cities across the country. Anti-police protests and riots in Portland have targeted local government buildings and a federal courthouse for 90 consecutive nights. Throughout June and July, rioters attacked the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, at one point barricading federal officers inside the building and shooting fireworks at them. Earlier this month, rioters set fire to the local police union headquarters.