On Wednesday, in the wake of the violence that erupted in Portland last Saturday in which journalist Andy Ngo was assaulted by masked members of the far-left group Antifa, Police Chief Danielle Outlaw called for anti-mask laws, asserting, “We cannot allow people to continue to use the guise of free speech to commit a crime. A lot of people are emboldened because they know they can’t be identified.’’
At a press conference, Outlaw “called for laws that would bar masks worn by demonstrators, allow police to fully videotape protests and give authorities greater control of protests by groups with a history of violence,” according to Oregon Live. She stated, “We have to do something differently … There were entities that planned a brawl in the city of Portland and no one seems to be upset about that. … Entities came here for a fight. … I don’t even know what they were protesting against.’’
Outlaw dismissed accusations from Portland’s police union president that Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the city’s police commissioner, has “handcuffed’’ the police response to demonstrations.
As The Daily Wire reported, after the attack on Ngo, his attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, told Fox News on Tuesday that she was “going to sue everybody who the facts and the law support being sued,” adding, “The situation on the ground in Portland and policing is so bad that the sheriffs of the adjoining counties have refused to send mutual aid to Portland because they don’t want their own officers to be attacked. Portland has been consistently understaffed these types of incidents, and there have been many incidents. They knew they were aware that this was going to happen and they did nothing to prevent it.”
Also on Tuesday, the Portland Police Bureau noted, “There is no current law or ordinance prohibiting covering of the face in a protest and commission of a crime, which makes it more difficult for investigators to identify perpetrators of violence. This is exploited by criminals who engage in acts of violence. Per Oregon Revised Statute, 181A.250, law enforcement is unable to record demonstration events unless there is criminal activity occurring.”
On Wednesday, Outlaw addressed the issue of recording demonstrations. Oregon Live reported, “Outlaw also pushed for changes in the law that would allow police to continually record protests, instead of only when crimes are committed, which she said slows police investigations because they only have snapshots of what occurred.” Oregon Live noted that local civil rights groups have opposed such a move.
Outlaw noted the reduced staff she has to work with and the fact that Washington County, Clackamas and Clark County sheriff’s offices will not come to the city’s aid. Oregon Live said Outlaw claimed it made no sense to send police officers to break up violence if the officers are outnumbered. She asserted, “There are barriers to what we’re doing because we don’t have strategic resources to get ahead of these things … Every demonstration we’ve responded to is reactionary. … We need strategic resources to get ahead of this before it starts so it’s not even allowed to happen in the first place.’’
Sarah Armstrong, a spokeswoman for The American Civil Liberties of Oregon, protested the implementation of an anti-mask law, saying, “A policy that prohibits wearing a mask to a protest will have police focusing on the wrong issue. Behavior is the issue, not the mask. It could be argued that the mask is an important symbolic part of a protester’s message … There are many legitimate reasons people wear ‘masks,’ including political and religious reasons.”
Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz’s chief of staff, Tim Crail, stated of a prospective anti-mask law, “We looked into it previously and the constitutional free speech issues are difficult to overcome, at least in Oregon,” adding Fritz is “open to a conversation about the advantages and difficulties created with a mask ordinance, but cannot say at this point whether she would support a ban on masks for protests.”