The New York Times Company
PORTLAND, Ore. — The mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, was left coughing and wincing in the middle of his own city Wednesday night after federal officers deployed tear gas into a crowd of protesters that Wheeler had joined outside the federal courthouse.
Wheeler, who scrambled to put on goggles while denouncing what he called the “urban warfare” tactic of the federal agents, said that he was outraged by the use of tear gas and that it was only making protesters more angry.
“I’m not going to lie — it stings; it’s hard to breathe,” Wheeler said. “And I can tell you with 100% honesty, I saw nothing which provoked this response.”
He called it an “egregious overreaction” on the part of the federal officers and not a de-escalation strategy.
“It’s got to stop now,” he declared.
But the Democratic mayor, 57, has also long been the target of Portland protesters infuriated by the city police’s own use of tear gas, which was persistent until a federal judge ordered the city to use it only when there was a safety issue. As Wheeler went through the crowds Wednesday, some threw objects in his direction, and others called for his resignation, chanting, “Tear Gas Teddy.”
After a large wave of tear gas sent Wheeler away from the scene, some protesters mocked him, asking how it felt. Wheeler said that joining the protesters at the front of the line was just one way he was going to try to rid the city of the federal tactical teams.
“A lot of these people hate my guts,” Wheeler said, looking around at the crowd.
But he said they were unified in wanting federal officers gone.
The mayor has called for federal agents to leave the city after they arrived to subdue the city’s long-running unrest. Dressed in camouflage and tactical gear and unleashing tear gas, federal officers have clashed violently with protesters and pulled some people into unmarked vans in what Gov. Kate Brown called “a blatant abuse of power.”
By early Thursday, with protesters still outside both the federal courthouse and the county justice center across the street, federal officers continued deploying tear gas and the Portland Police Bureau repeatedly warned that city officers might also use it.