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Portland will do more to address protest violence, police accountability, business aid, mayor says

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 8/27/2020 By Everton Bailey Jr., oregonlive.com

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Wednesday he hasn’t done enough to focus on damages caused by some city protests over the last three months and the fallout from coronavirus. He called on the community to help him come up with better solutions to city issues.

The mayor said during an evening news conference that he’d been “trying to do too much” on his own and hasn’t sought enough community feedback. He partly blamed himself for allowing a false national narrative about Portland pushed by President Donald Trump and others that the city is in “chaos.” And he said he wants the community as a whole to promote nonviolent protests but roundly condemn property damage and items thrown toward police by a small group of “violent extremists.”

“All violence, including police violence, is not the way to further the goals of our community,” Wheeler said.

He said the city has to do more to create a long-term plan to fight homelessness, quickly address complaints of police misconduct, clean up damage and graffiti to downtown buildings and businesses, and make other quality of life improvements. He also called for “more tolerance, more compromise.”

Wheeler said he planned to meet with police bureau officials later Wednesday to brainstorm new ideas on ways officers can protect peaceful demonstrators during protests, ways they can hold officers accountable “in real time” and what more resources officers need from the city to more effectively do their jobs.

He said he wants police bureau leaders to offer solutions that show they have heard community concerns about systemic racial bias by officers. And he said he shares police critics’ frustrations that the only current way to get answers to complaints about police misconduct is to wait for Independent Police Review cases to come to completion with the details of the investigation not being made public.

The mayor said he also planned to meet to meet with “key stakeholders” in the business community Thursday to come up with “common sense measures” to clean up downtown Portland and help local businesses. He said he was open to meeting with any employers or community leaders who wanted to participate in the conversation. The ideas could include the city chipping in to help pay for graffiti clean up and uninsured damages.

Business owners and leaders have been expressing growing alarm about the state of downtown Portland and calling on city leaders to act for weeks. SOLVE, the Portland Business Alliance and the Portland Lodging Alliance announced Wednesday that they would come together with others in the community to host a cleanup of downtown Portland on Sept. 3. 

Wheeler said he planned to announce initiatives starting Thursday to address engaging the community on ongoing police reforms, supporting local businesses and ways the city plans to help keep people in their homes after the statewide eviction moratorium ends Sept. 30. He also said the city plans to help address the rise in shootings this year with an upcoming City Council proposal to add more staff to the city’s office of violence prevention to give more support to community groups that aid residents impacted by gun violence.

He said he’d met recently with some protest leaders regarding the demonstrations. He said he is also interested in hearing from people who have caused damage during protests.

“I want to know how I can understand the anger, the frustration, the rage, the hurt and whatever is driving it,” Wheeler said. “Maybe there’s an opportunity for us to help address in a concrete way some of those issues too.”

He said he wants to have officer misconduct complaints addressed more quickly, noting that complaints filed with the Independent Police Review take “months or sometimes even years before people hear back.” He said as the police commissioner, he receives no feedback about complaints until the end of the internal and external police review processes.

“That just isn’t acceptable,” Wheeler said. “It doesn’t sit well with me and it doesn’t sit well with people in the public. I think we need to figure out how are we going to hold our officers accountable in real time.”

He said he didn’t believe completely disbanding the police bureau would be wise or help community public safety. But he acknowledged that there are many Portland residents who’ve expressed fear of calling the police for anything. He said the city still has ways to go to “help everyone in our community feel safe.”

“We don’t have the trust of everybody in this community and that’s for good reason,” Wheeler said. “We have to be honest enough to own it and say we’ll do better.”

The mayor said his advice to demonstrators out Wednesday night, the 91th consecutive day of protests in the city, to “be peaceful.”

Jamie Goldberg of The Oregonian/OregonLive staff contributed to this report.

-- Everton Bailey Jr; ebailey@oregonian.com  5/8 503-221-8343 5/8 @EvertonBailey

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