Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) was tear gassed by federal agents late Wednesday as he stood at a fence in front of a federal courthouse amid protesters who have been demonstrating in the Oregon city for weeks following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
“I’m not going to lie — it stings; it’s hard to breathe,” Wheeler told a reporter from The New York Times. “And I can tell you with 100 percent honesty, I saw nothing which provoked this response.”
He called it an “egregious overreaction” on the part of the federal officers, adding, “this is flat out urban warfare.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler says the tear gas stings. Says egregious overreaction from feds. Calls it urban warfare. pic.twitter.com/hrRICiNGHn
— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) July 23, 2020
Wheeler’s assault with tear-gas comes amid growing frustration in the city about the aggressive tactics used by federal officers who have fired tear gas and impact munitions into crowds at protests and struck demonstrators with batons as they rally outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse demanding that federal agents leave town.
Wheeler joined those crowds on Wednesday night, spending about an hour in front of the courthouse where multiple rounds of tear-gassing unfolded and close to three hours at the demonstrations overall, The Oregonian said.
It was unclear whether federal agents were aware that Wheeler was in the crowd when they used the tear gas, according to the Associated Press.
The federal agents have been dispatched in recent weeks by the Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump’s banner of law and order as protests in Portland continued for nearly two months after the police killing of George Floyd with no signs of stopping. In addition to violent attempts to quell crowds of protesters, at least two people were reportedly grabbed off the streets by unidentified masked agents in camouflage last week and detained in unmarked vans for questioning. Federal authorities have disputed those allegations.
“Nothing can justify this intervention,” Wheeler wrote in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon. “The President’s actions are unconstitutional.”
Videos surfacing after the incident show a slightly dazed and coughing Wheeler wearing a pair of goggles to thwart further irritation from the chemicals. The Portland mayor, not leaving his spot in the crowd, continued to take several rounds the gas.
Around the city official, demonstrators reportedly lit a large fire in the space between the fence and the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse as federal agents continued to dispense tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd.
Earlier in the night, Wheeler was the brunt of jeering crowds of more than 2,000 people, The Oregonian said, some of whom have been demonstrating in downtown Portland for weeks as they demand systemic reforms to the police bureau that Wheeler as mayor oversees. Although the Democratic mayor has opposed federal agents’ presence in Oregon’s largest city, he has faced harsh criticism from demonstrators who yelled and swore at him claiming some of the city’s own law enforcement had used similar tactics.
Earlier Wednesday, the City Council barred police from cooperating with federal agents or arresting reporters and legal observers.
Wheeler’s dose of tear-gassing also came hours after attorneys for Oregon urged a judge to issue a restraining order against the used by the agents deployed to quell the protests — calling their methods for intervening in the protests “unconstitutional police state-type tactics,” The Oregonian said.
According to The Oregonian, the state’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, said that federal agents had been arresting protesters without probable cause, citing the statement of Mark Pettibone, a Portland man who said he was placed in a van on July 15 by men in camouflage as he was walking home from a protest in downtown Portland. Pettibone was reportedly then taken to the federal courthouse for questioning and released without charges.
The lawsuit is part of growing opposition to Trump’s efforts to send federal agents to Portland as well as announcements that agents would be dispatched to Chicago and Albuquerque, under the guise of fighting crime. Democratic mayors of 15 cities condemned the use of federal officers in a letter to the U.S. attorney general.