PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said Wednesday she didn’t believe protesters in Portland are setting fires but that police are sending in “saboteurs” to create the strife. Her unsubstantiated claim drew immediate pushback from police, which caused her to later backpedal.
Hardesty spoke amid the growing city violence as federal agents have been deployed to protect their interests, such as the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse. She also took aim at Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Hardesty said she believes federal officers are targeting sanctuary cities, The Oregonian reported.
“I asked the mayor, ‘Who do you think they’re grabbing off the street?’ Well, ah, ah,” she said, attempting to mimic Wheeler stammering in response to her question.
“And he says, ‘Well, a sanctuary city just means we don’t work with ICE.’ And I said, ‘well, who do you think the border patrol works with?’ So we have an ignorance at the highest levels in our city government,” she said. “People who just assume that if the police say it happened, it really happened.”
Hardesty’s comments came three days after she issued a statement via Twitter, telling Wheeler that if he couldn’t control the Police Bureau, he should allow her to replace him as police commissioner. Wheeler responded that he planned to continue in the position during this “period of transformation.”
Her remarks were made during a video conference “Emergency National Briefing,” sponsored by the Portland-based Western States Center. She spoke after Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.
The outspoken Hardesty blamed police for creating strife on the city’s streets by sending in provocateurs.
“I want people to know that I do not believe there’s any protesters in Portland that are setting fires, that are creating crisis. I absolutely believe it’s police action, and they’re sending saboteurs and provocateurs into peaceful crowds so they justify their inhumane treatment of people who are standing up for their rights.”
However, the police antagonist did not offer any information to back up her allegations, The Oregonian reported.
Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland rank-and-file police union, quickly responded: “Really? Really? That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“With statements like this, it has become completely clear that Commissioner Hardesty is part of the problem in Portland,” Turner said in a statement. “Every one of the many videos we have seen confirms that small groups of rioters are starting the fires and trying to burn down buildings. Even a quick search of Twitter shows rioters setting the fires and boldly claiming responsibility.”
By Wednesday evening, Hardesty issued a statement apologizing, but referenced similar statements on fires she made to another publication, Marie Claire, not the remarks she issued during the national briefing carried live on Facebook.
“Today I let my emotions get the most of me during council and the comment I made to the press. But I’m angry, frustrated, and horrified by what has happened these past 50 days. I’m angry that even as a City Commissioner, I am coming up against countless barriers from protecting Portlanders from the deluge of tear gas, pepper spray and other munitions on a nightly basis.”
She said she drew from her experience as a child of the civil rights movement that “people have been sent to infiltrate these spaces to create incidents that justify enhanced police actions…I appreciate the reminder that as a public servant I need to be careful making statements out of misinformation, and I take this to heart.”
Turner, who represents rank-and-file officers, detectives and sergeants for the Portland Police Association, said he has invited elected officials to stand at the front lines with police officers during protests, but no City Council member has taken him up on it.
“Politicians bent on power, perpetuating misinformation and untruths, are just as guilty of using their privilege to hijack this movement as the rioters who are committing violent acts, burning, and looting,” he said.