ACLU to mayor: May Day march escalated by police

Advocates are calling on the mayor for a change in the police bureau

Riot police arrest someone near Pioneer Courthouse Square during a May Day riot, May 1, 2017. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon is calling on Mayor Ted Wheeler for change after they say the Portland Police Bureau caused things to escalate during the 2017 May Day march.

Riot police confront participants in a May Day riot, May 1, 2017. (Portland Tribune)

In a letter to the mayor on May 10, the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild and Lawyers for Good Government said PPB approached the march in an “adversarial manner” and created tension at the rally even before the march started.

According to the letter, Wheeler met with the legal groups in March, saying he would advocate for demilitarizing what he apparently called “storm troopers” during crowd control operations and would focus on encouraging community engagement.

On the day of the march, police arrived heavily armed and in riot gear and eventually used aggressive crowd control tactics including flash bangs and tear gas.

The ACLU said things escalated mainly after the police revoked the march permit. The letter claims the property damage and violence occurred after police cancelled the march permit “without warning,” which led to confusion among the majority of marchers, because the disturbances were happening at the back of the group.

“Instead of preventing violence, PPB’s response precipitated it, turning a peaceful march into a dangerous and chaotic situation,” the letter said.

On May Day, PPB created a more violent, more dangerous situation for everyone in downtown Portland because of their aggressive, militaristic response.”

The March started at 3 p.m. in Shemanski Park and by 4:15 p.m. police were telling marchers to leave and canceled the permit “due to numerous incidents of thrown projectiles, incendiary devices and other unsafe conditions.”

A total of 25 people were arrested during the protest, most charged with disorderly conduct. Anarchists started fires, broke windows, destroyed a police car and vandalized various public buildings.

The day after the protest, Wheeler released a statement, saying vandalism is a crime, not a political speech.

Michael Cox with the mayor’s office had the following statement Wednesday:

I would say that the people starting fires the people who broke windows the people that threw dangerous objects both at police officers and medics are the ones who bear responsibility for their actions.”

The letter calls on Wheeler to advocate for a less militarized police force and implement a policy to allow Portlanders to safely exercise their First Amendment rights.

“When running for office you campaigned on the promise of police reform and have publicly called for the de-militarization of PPB. Your public support of the aggressive, militaristic tactics used by PPB in response to the May Day protests is a troubling break from your campaign promises.”