Portland mayor Ted Wheeler on Sunday slammed Donald Trump, accusing the president of encouraging the kind of violence that erupted in the city overnight when a reported member of a rightwing group was shot dead after a group of Trump supporters confronted Black Lives Matter protesters.
“What America needs is for you to be stopped,” Wheeler said of Trump, after the president tore into Wheeler on Twitter in the hours after the death and retweeted video footage of his supporters in trucks firing paintballs and pepper spray at protesters downtown.
His sentiments were echoed in a statement by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in which he unequivocally condemned violence on all sides, while accusing Trump of “recklessly encouraging” it.
“He may believe tweeting about law and order makes him strong — but his failure to call on his supporters to stop seeking conflict shows just how weak he is,” Biden’s statement on Sunday said.
It wasn’t clear if the shooting was linked to fights that broke out as some from the procession of about 600 vehicles, many flying large “Trump 2020” flags, revved and honked their way through narrow downtown streets, seeming to taunt protesters in the cityon Saturday night. Some of the demonstrators threw objects in response, especially after paintballs were fired towards the sidewalks.
Later, an Associated Press freelance photographer heard three gunshots and then observed police medics working on the body of the victim, who appeared to be a white man.
Portland police officers “responded and located a victim with a gunshot wound to the chest. Medical responded and determined that the victim was deceased,” the department stated.
According to police, the shooting happened at 8.46pm local time on Saturday. A video that appears to have captured the incident, taken from the other side of the street, shows a man wearing shorts approaching a car parking garage. Shots ring out and the man falls to the ground.
Later it was reported that the man had been wearing a Patriot Prayer hat bearing the logo of a rightwing group.
Some outlets have reported the identity of the victim, but his name was unconfirmed by the authorities late on Sunday afternoon.
Joey Gibson, head of the Washington State-based rightwing group, whose supporters have intermittently clashed with left-wing protesters in Portland, said the man killed was a “good friend.”
Trump repeatedly tweeted criticism of Wheeler on Sunday.
Early Sunday, Trump had retweeted video from a New York Times reporter on the scene that showed substances aimed at protesters and journalists. Other footage showed hundreds of cars rallying in a suburb before proceeding towards city.
Some diverted into the downtown area, which had not been part of the original plan by the caravan, which mainly stuck to other routes on the outskirts of the city, New York Times reporter Mike Baker told CNN.
Trump also dangled the national guard, which the White House normally authorizes on the request of a state governor, together with a third-party tweet criticizing Wheeler, who said on Sunday afternoon he had never met the president.
Wheeler said at a press conference on Sunday afternoon: “President Trump, for four years we have had to live with you and your racist attacks on Black people. We learned early about your sexist attitudes towards women … we have listened to your attacks on immigrants … do you seriously wonder that America in decades has not seen this level of violence?”
Wheeler, a Democrat, said his heart was heavy over the tragedy in the city overnight, and protests that have splintered on the fringes into sporadic violent unrest.
He urged “those seeking retribution” for the death of the man overnight not to come to Portland, blaming outside forces for coming into the city to foment violence.
And he spoke of plans for reforms to criminal justice, education, housing and health access in the city that he implored people to vote on and for groups to come together, saying he would “reach across any aisle” to stop the violence and start dialogue.
California Democratic congresswoman Karen Bass said on Sunday morning that Trump’s tweets about Portland and his plan to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the aftermath of a white police officer shooting a gravely wounding a Black man, as part of the president’s “law and order” election agenda would achieve the opposite objective, intentionally.
“He is going to do everything to disrupt law and order,” she told Dana Bash on CNN’s State of the Union politics talk show on Sunday.
“You saw in Portland Trump supporters actively shooting paintballs at protesters. Trump encourages that,” she added.
Portland has been the site of nightly protests for more than three months since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Hundreds have been arrested by local and federal law enforcement and, before the shooting, police made several arrests Saturday and advised residents to avoid downtown.
The chaotic scene came two days after Trump invoked Portland as a liberal city overrun with violence in a speech at the Republican national convention as part of his “law and order” re-election campaign theme. The caravan marked the third Saturday in a row that Trump supporters have rallied in the city.
The latest caravan convened after a group on Facebook had called on Trump supporters to convene in the city under the banner “Trump 2020 Cruise Rally in Portland”.
The caravan of Trump supporters had gathered earlier in the day at a nearby mall and drove as a group to the heart of Portland. As they arrived in the city, bearing large “Trump 2020” flags on the sides of their vehicles, protesters attempted to stop them by standing in the street and blocking bridges.
Videos from the scene showed sporadic fighting, as well as Trump supporters firing paintball pellets at opponents and using bear spray as counter-protesters threw things at the Trump caravan.
“There have been some instances of violence between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators,” Portland police said via Twitter. “Officers have intervened and in some cases made arrests.”
The Black Lives Matter demonstrations usually target police buildings and federal buildings. Some protesters have called for reductions in police budgets while the city’s mayor and some in the Black community have decried the violence, saying it is counterproductive.