Did Portland Go Lawless?

Protests in Portland caused substantial property damage and Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. But this time, the Portland police stood down.

A crowd of 100 people wreaked havoc in downtown Portland, Oregon, this week – smashing storefront windows, lighting dumpsters on fire and causing at least $500,000 in damage – but police officers didn’t stop them.

Portland Police Bureau officials say that’s because of legislation passed by Oregon lawmakers this year, which restricts the tools they can use to confront people vandalizing buildings and causing mayhem.

“The reason that we did not intervene goes back to what we talked about last month with House Bill 2928 and the restrictions placed on us in a crowd control environment,” KOIN reports that Portland Police Lt. Jake Jensen said in a neighborhood meeting Thursday.

Complaints about the harm caused by the somewhat indiscriminate use of “tools” like rubber bullets and OC gas are entirely legitimate. They can cause severe harm, and when used against a mass of people, some of whom are doing damage and others merely exercising their right to protest, innocent people get hurt along with the less-than-innocent. From the perspective of those exercising their rights, the harm is real, both physical and constitutional.

But then, when nothing is done, people aren’t thrilled with the outcome either.

Residents frustrated by the latest round of destructive demonstrations Tuesday questioned whether that meant anything goes now in Portland.

“Does that mean we are now like a lawless city?” Linda Witt asked during the meeting with police. Jensen replied saying people can still face consequences later.

Arresting or prosecuting people is one thing, but it doesn’t prevent the damage happening in real time. But the cops’ rationale for doing nothing seemed to fly in the face of the law’s caveat.

The legislation in question is House Bill 2928, which prohibits the use of things like pepper spray and rubber bullets for crowd control. However there is an exception – when the circumstances constitute a riot and if the officer using the chemical incapacitant reasonably believes its use is necessary to stop and prevent more destructive behavior.

“The law clearly allows Portland Police to use effective tools necessary to control violent crowds,” House Minority Leader Christine Drazan told The Associated Press on Friday. “However, activist attorneys are deliberately misinterpreting legislation to prevent police from intervening. They have no business putting law enforcement and community safety at risk.”

And indeed, the law provides that “tools” may be used when it’s a riot.

(A) The circumstances constitute a riot, as described in ORS 166.015; and
(B) The officer using the chemical incapacitant reasonably believes, when and to the extent the chemical incapacitant is used, that the use of the chemical incapacitant is necessary
to terminate and prevent furtherance of the riotous behavior.

Oregon Revised Statutes 188-.015 defines a riot in the loosest of terms.

A person commits the crime of riot if while participating with five or more other persons the person engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.

Granted, it’s popular now to argue that property damage isn’t violence, but statutory interpretation doesn’t depend on the approval of the unduly passionate on social media. So why didn’t the cops act to prevent the property damage?

Portland Police Sgt. Kevin Allen told AP that officers have been made aware of the “potential implications” of the legislation and that it’s being analyzed by the city attorney’s office.

“Until we have some clarity on the bill we have to follow the most restrictive interpretation of it,” Allen said.

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday. Neither did lawmakers of the Democratic legislative caucuses of the Legislature, which is controlled by the Democratic Party.

There are two possibilities at play here. When the Portland police declared a riot and acted to end it, by using the “tools” that were subject to prohibition, they were blamed and criticized for doing so. Indeed, the law was enacted to prevent them from doing so, even though the protests included, if not turned into, a riot provided one accepts that property damage is violence. So if what they were doing before was the very wrong the law was enacted to prevent, why would it not prevent them from acting under the same circumstances now?

The other possibility is that the cops have decided that it’s time for Portland, both its citizens and its government, to decide whether to back them or back the rioters. If they want to handcuff the cops from acting, so be it, but then this is what you get. The cops have had enough of taking the heat for doing their job while the mayor and legislature can pretend to be all woke to the protesters. Why didn’t Mayor Ted Wheeler proclaim it a riot and take the cuffs off the cops to protect Portland? If he doesn’t have the guts to do so, why should they be the bad guys? Again

The cops didn’t entirely punt, and ordered the crowd to disperse.

Authorities say although police did not directly intervene, officers did give direction to disperse over a loudspeaker and a Mobile Field Force moved in, at which point the crowd splintered.

It could be argued that this was a good outcome, no gas, no rubber bullets, no protester shot in the head or beaten for being present while some other person in black clothing destroyed some random property because of political connections that existed only in their twisted delusions. Maybe it was. Maybe the destruction would have happened before the police could have intervened with force and employment of anti-riot tools would have served no purpose other than to add police violence to the protester violence.

If so, what are the residents complaining about? Is Portland the worst place in the country, explaining why it remains under siege from its black bloc, Antifa, anarchists, whoever believes that random damage and destruction is the path to Utopia. If you don’t want mayhem, and don’t want the police to prevent mayhem, then blame the people causing the mayhem and politely ask them to stop. Surely their love of humanity will make them rethink their evening activities.

7 thoughts on “Did Portland Go Lawless?

  1. B. McLeod

    It’s like a return to the days of the early wild west. Citizens who don’t fancy being burned out can either arm themselves or leave. For anyone with resources, it’s exponentially easier just to leave, abandoning Portlandiers to the pestilence of their own making.

  2. Robert Parry

    The “exception” covers the only scenario in which riot control tools were used anyway.

    The point was to ban their use. The politicians need to own it or admit it was a sham.

  3. SamS

    The fault is entirely with the mayor. He could have ordered the police to clear the streets and explained why later. By not doing so he is saying he is with the rioters.

  4. Richard Parker

    Mayor Tedrick went to one of the nightly riots last year to show his solidarity. He fled for his safety with his security detail from the black clad hyenas who turned on him.

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