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Portland City Council Rejects Mayor's Constitutionally Dubious 'Emergency Ordinance' on Protests

Believe it or not, authorities can maintain the peace while also respecting the First Amendment.

John Rudoff/Sipa USA/NewscomJohn Rudoff/Sipa USA/NewscomThe Portland City Council voted 3–2 yesterday to reject Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed "emergency ordinance" to crack down on violent protests.

The decision is a win for First Amendment advocates, who had expressed concern that the ordinance curtailed constitutional rights and gave Wheeler too much power.

Two of the city's five commissioners—Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly—had already expressed their opposition to the proposal. The swing vote was Commissioner Nick Fish. While Fish ended up voting no, he didn't object to Wheeler's motives. "He's right to focus on solutions to the unacceptable violence on our streets and the rising tide of hate and intolerance of a vocal minority," he said, according to KATU.

But Fish felt there are better ways to keep the peace. "I'm not convinced we've done everything we can with the tools already at our disposal," he said, according to Willamette Week. "That includes arresting people who violate our laws."

Wheeler proposed the ordinance last month after a series of violent incidents between left- and right-wing demonstrators. The latest of these clashes involved the right-wing group Patriot Prayer and antifa counterprotesters. Some protesters exchanged blows, leading police to intervene with non-lethal ammunition, though no arrests were made.

Following that clash, Wheeler proposed his emergency ordinance, which would have permitted the police commissioner (a position Wheeler holds as mayor of the city) "to issue reasonable time, place, and manner regulations to govern demonstrations" when he "anticipates a high risk of danger and violence."

Wheeler would have been allowed to issue such regulations if groups with a history of violence against each other plan to protest on the same day, if the safety of "participants and bystanders" is in jeopardy, or if he thinks a demonstration would lead to "interference with the ability to access public property, or the disruption of public services." He also would have been able to restrict demonstrations based on "substantial likelihood of violence."

Under the ordinance, a violation of Wheeler's restrictions could lead to arrest and would be considered a misdemeanor.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed the ordinance on the grounds that it "grants broad authority to the mayor's office to regulate constitutionally-protected speech and assembly with no meaningful oversight for abuse," according to ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Mat Dos Santos.

The National Lawyers Guild also opposed the measure, as did many other groups. Three of those organizations—the Western States Center, CAIR-Oregon and the Oregon Justice Resource Center—proposed a privately funded alternative that would use "education, law enforcement training and creative litigation strategies" to end violence at protests, the Week reports. The groups claim that Wheeler rejected their proposal.

Following the city council's vote yesterday, Wheeler told KPTV he doesn't intend to try again, or at least not with the same bill.

Good. Reason's Christian Britschgi has explained why simply holding a rally cannot be considered an incitement to violence. There is certainly a history of violence breaking out at Patriot Prayer events, but officials shouldn't be able to infringe on free speech because they think this might happen.

So how can authorities maintain the peace while also respecting the First Amendment? Well, they could always enforce the laws they already have that prohibit assault and battery. As Britschgi argues:

Enforcing those laws would be a far better way of dealing with the admittedly troubling street violence situation in Portland, rather than passing emergency ordinances that endanger bedrock constitutional freedoms like speech and assembly.

This wasn't Wheeler's first attempt to restrict freedom of assembly. Reason's Scott Shackford reported last year that Wheeler said the city would stop giving rally permits to some alt-right groups altogether.

Photo Credit: John Rudoff/Sipa USA/Newscom

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  • Longtobefree||

    " "That includes arresting people who violate our laws.""

    Damn, now there's a radical idea.

  • Longtobefree||

    "right-wing group Patriot Prayer and antifa counterprotesters"

    Why not:
    "the group Patriot Prayer and left-wing antifa"?

  • Uncle Adolf's Gas and Grill||

    That's not in the style guide.

  • I can't even||

    You would think the style guide would include instructions for not letting the mask slip.

  • John||

    Good. Reason's Christian Britschgi has explained why simply holding a rally cannot be considered an incitement to violence. There is certainly a history of violence breaking out at Patriot Prayer events, but officials shouldn't be able to infringe on free speech because they think this might happen.

    That is a completely dishonest statement. What do you mean "violence breaking out"? Are the patriot prayer people violent and go around attacking people? I don't think they do but if that is reason's claim, they should say so. If, however, antifa shows up and attacks the Patriot Prayer events, that is not "violence breaking out". That is antifa committing criminal acts. One of those two things is happening. Violence isn't just "breaking out".

    Reason is so anxious to apologize for Antifa, they sould like people who defend trigger happy cops. "The gun just went off". "Shots occurred". "Violence broke out". It is all the same passive voice dishonest bullshit.

  • Kivlor||

    You know who is attacking whom bu the language. When left-wing mobs attack people "violence broke out". They dont have any agency, because they are just NPCs

    When the right starts violence, they are treated as having agency, and the language reflects it

  • GoatOnABoat||

    They didn't care about keeping the peace until the targets of left-wing violence started fighting back.

  • John||

    What Kivlor and Goats said. Both of you are exactly right.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...would have permitted the police commissioner (a position Wheeler holds as mayor of the city) "to issue reasonable time, place, and manner regulations to govern demonstrations" when he "anticipates a high risk of danger and violence."

    What the hell is the problem? It plainly says reasonable right there in the text.

  • Jerryskids||

    This wasn't Wheeler's first attempt to restrict freedom of assembly. Reason's Scott Shackford reported last year that Wheeler said the city would stop giving rally permits to some alt-right groups altogether.

    And there's the tell. Mayor Wheeler seems to be less interested in controlling "violence" than in controlling speech.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    My read of the situation is that the so-called Antifa groups are attacking everybody, especially people just driving down the road. The police have repeatedly stood by while these attacks take place and I'm suspecting that Wheeler is feeling the heat from Portland citizens who are getting tired of it.

    What's unfortunate about Wheeler's actions is this is what happens when you ignore a problem for too long, it gets out of hand and then the reaction becomes an overreach.

    Had I been on that city council I too would have voted against the ordinance, but I'd be putting pressure on the police to start acting when protesters start banging on the vehicles of seniors just trying to drive through the area.

  • Azathoth!!||

    There is certainly a history of violence breaking out at Patriot Prayer events

    No.

    blockquote> There is certainly a history of leftists violently atttacking Patriot Prayer events

    There. Fixed that to reflect reality.

  • Texasmotiv||

    Gotta love the mendacious use of passive voice.

  • ||

    Constitutionally Dubious

    Pretty sure you can use the F word there too.

    No, not fuck, you rude bastard.

  • Radioactive||

    can I get an amen for CCW? preferably in a large enough caliber to seriously incapacitate some of these antifa motherfuckers

  • I can't even||

    I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it

    - Mitch Hedberg

  • BYODB||

    How is this a first amendment issue instead of a freedom of assembly issue? I mean, to peacefully assemble that is.

  • Zeb||

    Freedom of assembly is a first amendment issue.

  • Social Justice is neither||

    Sorry Joe but there is no history of violence "breaking out" at PP events. There is a history of left wing groups descending on them with threats and violence and them defending themselves.

    There is however a long history of these same left wing groups breaking out in violence with absolutely no outside force acting against them.

    The only reason we're probably not really seeing blood in the streets there is because PP shows up to their lawful event, submit to being disarmed from attack by police only to have those same police stand idly by as an armed mob of left wing activists descend on them intent on violence to silence any opposition. Thank god the mob is as capable as they are intelligent.

    Your passive voice and framing indicates a stance sympathetic with the mob and not a civil society.

  • jdgalt1||

    "Antifa" are not protesters. They are terrorists just like the KKK. And Portland's mayor favors them, so he has the police disarm their opponents and then stand down, allowing Antifa to attack people with impunity.

    If the mayor (who should be in jail for this) continues to get away with it, then somebody not under his command MUST intervene with force. We can only hope Trump can get enough control of the FBI that they can be entrusted with this job.

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