Saturday, September 26, 2020
Sept. 26, 2020

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In Our View: Wheeler needs to get a move on over unrest

The Columbian
Published:

It’s hard to imagine, but Ted Wheeler, not Donald Trump, may be the most hated man in Portland.

The Portland mayor has done a poor job of handling the nightly protests in his city, now exceeding the 100-day mark. And there’s no end in sight. In fact, the danger and violence continue to increase. Last week, a man was shot and killed during a confrontation near one of the protests. Police, protesters and bystanders are injured almost nightly.

On Tuesday, Wheeler’s 58th birthday, a riot was declared in front of a swanky Pearl District condominium tower where the mayor lives. Protesters brought shiny gold balloons to spell out an expletive in honor of the occasion. On Thursday, His Honor apologized to his neighbors and announced he was selling the condo and moving to a secure, undisclosed location.

The neighbors probably appreciate those actions, Mr. Mayor, but is fleeing the scene of the crime really the best you can do? It’s time for Wheeler to lead a response to put an end to the violent protests. Yes, Black lives matter. But nothing is being accomplished by endless violence, other than inflicting constant blows on people who live and work there.

And that’s the least of it. While authorities are otherwise occupied with protests, “unlawful assemblies” and outright riots, people — including Black people– are being murdered at a terrific rate on the city’s streets. There were 15 homicides in July, the most in a single month in at least three decades, according to oregonlive.com. According to Portland media reports, it can take hours for cops to respond to calls because they’re swamped downtown.

Yes, it’s easy to look across the Columbia River and criticize, but Clark County has a stake in this. Although we have no direct representation, Portland is our city too. Thousands of us work there, pay a lot of taxes there, and attend artistic, cultural and sporting events there. We patronize Portland businesses. And, like nearly all Portland residents, our patience for protest is growing thin.

Admittedly, crafting a solution will not be simple. President Trump would have us believe that all that needs to be done is to send heavily armed National Guard troops to flood the city streets. That didn’t work at Kent State University in 1970, and it won’t work in Portland in 2020.

But Wheeler and others need to do something. It’s time for Multnomah County’s new district attorney, Mike Schmidt, to aggressively pursue criminal charges against people arrested by police. It’s time for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to effectively coordinate response among different jurisdictions, and to offer the services of the Oregon State Police. It’s time for Wheeler to back his new police chief, Chuck Lovell, whom he appointed in June but has since thrown under the bus.

Components of a successful plan should include a way to acknowledge that the voices have been heard, and an understanding that people who are not involved have the right to go about their lives without fear. There needs to be a focus on improving the lives of Portland’s Black residents, with quantifiable results. There needs to be a way for small-business owners to recoup what was lost. And, most importantly, there must be a way to bring violent lawbreakers to justice, even if they have to fill Memorial Coliseum with cots.

Wheeler is up for reelection this November. In May’s primary, he received a little more than 49 percent of the votes, far outpolling every one of his 18 opponents. That’s a mandate. Now Wheeler needs to use it to stop the nightly nonsense that is damaging one of America’s great cities.

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