Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler castigated rioters who tried to torch a police station while barring its exits, calling it nothing short of attempted murder while warning that violence would only fuel Donald Trump’s reelection bid.
“When you commit arson with an accelerant in an attempt to burn down a building that is occupied by people who you have intentionally trapped inside, you are not demonstrating, you are attempting to commit murder,” Wheeler said during an online press conference on Thursday, referring to a protest the night prior, which was declared a riot by police.
“I believe that city staff could have died last night. I cannot and I will not tolerate that. This is not peaceful protest. This is not advocacy to advance reforms,” Wheeler said.
Soon after the crowd was ordered to disperse on Wednesday, police say protesters barricaded the front doors of their East Precinct and set a fire outside using plywood and an accelerant. Fireworks and other projectiles were also reportedly launched at officers as they attempted to clear the area around the precinct, prompting police to respond with riot control munitions.
Wheeler went on to argue that the violent demonstrations would be used as a “prop for the reelection campaign of Donald Trump,” saying that over two consecutive months of unrest had created “the B-roll film that will be used in ads nationally to help Donald Trump during this campaign.”
“If you don’t want to be part of that, then don’t show up,” Wheeler said.
The comments marked a shift in tone for the mayor, who has been generally supportive of the protests – even turning out in the streets alongside demonstrators last month – however some were skeptical of the apparent change of heart, noting that it came too late and for the wrong reasons.
“Weasel Wheeler finally steps up, yet at same time trying to placate these violent empty headed rioters for giving fodder to Trump’s campaign,” one netizen wrote.
The mayor’s warnings apparently had little effect, however, as protesters again descended on the East Precinct on Thursday night. As the demonstration continued into Friday morning, Portland PD said it believed “the intention of the crowd outside East Precinct is to vandalize or attempt to burn down” the building, though it’s unclear if another effort was actually made.
Wheeler said he anticipates “additional planned attacks on public buildings” in the coming days, urging residents to keep away from areas prone to rioting. While the city saw a brief window of calm after the withdrawal of federal police agencies, which were deployed there to defend government property in July, the unrest has picked up again, seeing renewed clashes between activists and state and local police.
The Department of Homeland Security has vowed to redeploy federal agents to Portland’s streets should the rioting continue, though for now they remain on standby.