The mayor of Portland, Oregon, criticized local prosecutors and his own Police Bureau for not being more aggressive in arresting and prosecuting right-wing and left-wing protesters who frequently clash on the city’s streets.
“In what city is it legal to engage in a street brawl?” Mayor Ted Wheeler asked at a news conference on Monday.
Protests occur often in Portland and police have at times struggled to contain violent clashes that ensue.
Wheeler called for a change to laws if they do not allow police officers to arrest brawlers and vowed that anyone fighting will not escape being unpunished. But Wheeler also said prosecutors were being too timid and not enforcing existing law.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that Wheeler said it defies belief that protesters who fight can evade arrest and prosecution.
Wheeler mentioned an Oct. 13, 2018, fight outside a downtown bar. Members of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer and left-wing Antifa used their fists, batons and even bear mace. Police officers were present but did not attempt any arrests.
Wheeler said officials in Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill’s office told mayoral aides that prosecutors could do nothing because the law allows for “mutual combat” between people fighting.
“That was an unacceptable answer for me,” Wheeler said. “C’mon folks, we’re overcomplicating this. You’re not allowed to fight on the streets of the city.”
While prosecutors have declined to file charges, police also have not made arrests. The department is under scrutiny after it was revealed last month that a police lieutenant in charge of containing protests texted repeatedly with the leader of Patriot Prayer, detailing the movement of a rival protest group.
Brent Weisberg, a spokesman for Underhill, said prosecutions are “incredibly complex” and some elements have been oversimplified “by individuals other than prosecutors.” Sometimes prosecutors cannot determine “the initial aggressor,” he said, making it legally and ethically questionable to file charges.
Wheeler said if the law doesn’t allow for arresting street fighters, it must be changed.
“In cities across the country they’re looking at us like, ‘What the heck? We’d arrest these people.'”