A well-known politician on Friday denounced “self-described anarchists who engage in regular criminal destruction” and want to “burn,” “bash” and “intimidate.” He called for “higher bail” and “tougher pretrial restrictions” on rioters. And he pleaded with the public to cooperate with police and identify miscreants: “Our job is to unmask them, arrest them, and prosecute them.”
That was Portland, Ore., Mayor
the über-progressive, who made a national reputation last year by apologizing for vandals and rioters he said were merely exercising their right to protest against an unjust America. Now he’s had an epiphany, after his indulgence has made parts of Portland a battle zone.
Activists on the right and left have clashed in Portland’s streets, often violently, with few consequences since Mr. Wheeler was elected mayor in 2016. Rioting escalated after
death. But even as agitators shot fireworks at law enforcement, firebombed government buildings and set fire to cop cars and a police union hall, Mr. Wheeler directed police not to use CS gas for crowd control.
When the Trump Administration sent agents to defend federal property, Mr. Wheeler called it “an attack on our democracy” and blamed the feds for “increased violence and vandalism in our downtown core.” The fiscal 2021 budget slashed police funding by some $27 million.
Tolerance for law-breaking begets more of it. Last summer there were more than 100 consecutive nights of anarchy and violence in the Rose City. Between Nov. 3 and April 17, police arrested some 69 people on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to attempted murder. Vandals assaulted two federal courthouses and other government buildings, causing at least $2.3 million in damage. Recent targets include a church known for its homeless outreach, the Boys and Girls Club in Northeast Portland, and the Oregon Historical Society.
There were 56 murders last year, a 60% increase over 2019, and 891 shootings, up from 389. Riots sometimes prevented police from quickly responding to 911 calls. Some 62% of businesses described downtown Portland as “not safe” in 2020, compared to 5% in 2016, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit Downtown Portland Clean & Safe.
If we can borrow a phrase from the last left-wing protest heyday, the 1960s and Seventies, Mr. Wheeler sounds like a liberal mugged by reality. Too bad his city had to be mugged first.
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Appeared in the April 27, 2021, print edition.