The news comes one day after the Trump administration announced that it had reached an agreement with Brown to withdraw federal officers from downtown Portland. The Department of Homeland Security has said it will remain a presence there until it believes federal locations there are secure.
The presence of federal agents, who arrived earlier this month, escalated tensions in the city, which has seen prolonged and at times violent protests for the past two months over demands for racial justice and police accountability.
“I think we’ve had enough political grandstanding from DC,” Brown, a Democrat, tweeted Thursday morning. “The President’s plan to ‘dominate’ the streets of American cities has failed. And today, federal troops are preparing to leave downtown Portland. We will protect free speech and the right to protest peacefully.”
Speaking during a late afternoon briefing on Thursday, President Donald Trump said local authorities in Portland are “working today and probably tomorrow to clean out this beehive of terrorists,” referring to protesters.
“And if they do it, I’m going to be very happy, and then slowly we can start to leave the city. If they don’t do it, we’ll be sending in the National Guard.”
Federal agents used tear gas ‘broadly, indiscriminately’
Trump and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf have said the federal officers were in Portland to protect a federal courthouse downtown.
Live video feeds from last week showed federal agents dispersing tear gas and flash bangs from behind a heavy metal fence set up as a barricade between the justice center and protesters. Before the tear gas was released, a CNN team saw a large crowd of peaceful protesters chanting “Black lives matter” and waving the flashlights on their cell phones in the air while listening to speeches.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told reporters on Thursday that federal agents have used CS gas, commonly called tear gas, “broadly, indiscriminately, and nightly and that is why it is escalating the behavior we are seeing on the streets.”
He also apologized for the instances in which Portland police used tear gas — which he said happened “exactly twice in the month of July” — on non-violent protesters.
“I apologize to those non-violent protesters who were subjected to CS gas or LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Devices),” he said. “It should never happened. I take personal responsibility for it and I’m sorry.”
The mayor himself was tear gassed in downtown Portland last Thursday, according to video and posts on Twitter from a New York Times journalist. The video shows Wheeler, wearing goggles and a face mask amid a crowd of people, hold his nose and close his eyes in distress as a cloud of tear gas drifts by him.
CNN reported last week that it was unknown who was responsible for deploying the tear gas and there is nothing to indicate the mayor was targeted.
Portland officers to remain
Earlier on Thursday — prior to Trump’s afternoon briefing — Wheeler said Brown gave her personal assurance that “the federal officers are in fact leaving.”
“I remain cautiously optimistic that federal tactical teams deployed by the president to occupy this community are poised to leave,” Wheeler said. “We are all in agreement here that since they arrived, things have only gotten much worse.”
Federal agents “must leave” Portland in order for de-escalation to begin, the mayor said.
Wheeler said local officers will remain in place, and added that he wants protesters to know he and other leaders have heard their grievances, and he is committed to making progress.
“We are in the middle of one of the greatest transformational moments in our lifetime,” he said. “We get to write the future and this city will proudly be at the center of that transformation.”
The current system for accountability and review is “not acceptable,” Wheeler said. He said he expects the changes within the Portland Police Bureau to be “more than aspirational.”
The use of these crowd control devices led Wheeler, for the first time in his tenure as mayor, to make tactical directives, he said, prohibiting the use of LRADs and tear gas except in life-saving circumstances.
Brown, too, expressed optimism about changes in the city.
“The massive and non-violent protests led by Black Lives Matter activists have inspired the nation,” she tweeted Thursday morning. “Let’s get to work and make this vision a reality.”