Without Tear Gas And The Mob

The Portland Police Bureau took what would have been a highly unusual step for a police department in another age. After Portland mayor, Ted Wheeler, who was forced out of his apartment by rioters breaking windows in the middle of the night and making life for fellow residents untenable, ordered the police to stop using CS, the compound 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, which is often described as tear gas, they turned to the public.

Banning the lawful use of CS will make it very difficult to address this kind of violence without resorting to much higher levels of physical force, with a correspondingly elevated risk of serious injury to members of the public and officers. CS, while effective, is a significantly lower level of force than impact weapons, which would very likely be necessary to disperse riotous groups with its prohibition. We do not want to use gas. We do not want to use any force.

There remains an expectation that police will make arrests for crimes committed in civil disturbance events. The inability to use CS means this task will require higher levels of force to accomplish.

Their claim is that they have been very reluctant to use tear gas, using it not for crowd control, but only after protest has turned into riot, “mostly peaceful” with enough violence to do harm to police or destroy property.

Wheeler, as mayor, is also the “police commissioner,” the civilian in charge of the PPB. He ordered the cops to stop.

The mayor of Portland on Thursday ordered police in Oregon’s largest city to stop using tear gas for crowd control during the frequently violent protests that have racked the city for more than three months since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, was tear gassed when he went to a demonstration against the presence of federal authorities dispatched to the city to protect federal property.

He said he still wants police to respond aggressively to prevent violence and vandalism. Hundreds of people have been arrested since the protests started in May.

Wheeler has found himself in a peculiar position, not unlike the position of his predecessors in Weird Portland, all of whom get elected as progressive Democrats and none of whom aren’t hated shortly after election for failing to provide unicorns to the city’s residents. Wheeler wants to be the protesters’ hero. They show their appreciation by protesting at his home and breaking his windows. So he tries ever harder to show he’s one of them. His love is unrequited with extreme prejudice.

His latest effort, to end the outrage of tear gas used on people who only want equality and the end of police, is an order from the civilian leadership of the police to the paramilitary force under his command. Sure, cops are civilians, too, in the sense that they aren’t the military and are subject to the control of civil authorities. They work for “us,” to the extent any “us” exists anymore. Not for any of us individually, but us as a collective, a society.

In Portland, that society has elected Ted Wheeler to be the guy in charge to speak for them. So his orders matter. They should matter, and they must matter, or else the cops are operating outside the constraints of civil authority, which would be an armed insurrection regardless of their intentions.

To make an arrest in the middle of a crowd intent on destruction and injuring people, it takes considerable resources–large numbers of officers that we do not have. Not only do we not have enough PPB officers to respond in this manner, our area partners have stated they will not come to our aid, given the climate in Portland.

Police need all kinds of tools and resources to effectively respond to violence perpetrated by groups of people. Lately, it seems more tools have been taken away than added. There has been mention of research into alternative methods that may prevent the need for greater force.

At various times, people react to something the cops do, or don’t do, with demands that they do it differently, because after the fact, it’s easier to see what might have been done to achieve a different outcome. Sometimes, the only honest answer is that there was no other way it could have been handled, unless one is inclined to fantasies.

When a crowd of thousands with a hundred violent people interspersed in its midst, most wearing black, many inclined to physically assault police, others inclined to interfere with their efforts to identify and arrest missile throwers and building burners and make it impossible for the police to use any means to address violence or arrest perpetrators of that violence, what are they to do?

Voodoo, the woke say. Voodoo, Wheeler says. Figure it out.

The Police Bureau is in favor of research, but research takes time. Removing tools without well vetted alternatives, with policies and training in place prior to their use, places police and community members at risk. No one has presented a solution of how officers can stop a rioting group who are threatening the lives of those present, especially given that in most of these cases, officers are clearly outnumbered, sometimes by hundreds.

There is a difference between the efficacy of a tool and the skill with which it’s used. The argument isn’t whether tear gas was used too quickly, or needlessly sprayed into the face of a person as a show of cruel force. Any tool can be used poorly, ineffectively, brutally. In the midst of a thousand people, each of whom believes they are entitled to the individualized treatment by the police that their conduct warrants, even as they are a tiny part of a larger organism that is doing things they personally wouldn’t do.

Taking away the tool of tear gas, given the circumstances on the ground, leaves the Portland police in an untenable position. On the one hand, they’re directed to stop the violence. On the other, they’re directed to do so while denied the least forceful means. Ted Wheeler is, and should be, in charge of his cops, and they must obey his directive to stop using tear gas. And that’s why fantasies are fun and the Portland police can’t stop the violence.

4 thoughts on “Without Tear Gas And The Mob

  1. B. McLeod

    I think they are saying they can stop the violence, but that it will have to be with “impact munitions” at this point. Portlandia is “progressively” creeping toward that riot where police open fire on the rioters to protect their own lives. Still, when it happens, Portlandians will be shocked (and the police will be blamed again).

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