The local government is in full CYA mode in the wake of reports that Portland PD were told by Mayor Ted Wheeler to stand down, and did so, in response to calls for assistance related to an ‘Occupy ICE’ encampment erected outside of a federal building in the southwest quadrant of the city. A wrongheaded political statement has garnered backlash from rational, anarchy-fearing people on both sides of the aisle who understand what was once a seemingly obvious reality: politics should never stand in the way of public safety.
For what it’s worth, Wheeler has denied the charges that Portland police “failed to respond to any 911 call”, calling those allegations “inaccurate and inflammatory”. However, his comments reek of semantics, as Wheeler has "consistently stated that [he] did not want the Portland Police Bureau to be engaged or sucked into a conflict for the purpose of securing federal property that houses a federal agency with their own federal police force."
The President of the Portland Police Union tells a different story than Wheeler. He makes no bones about it, stating unequivocally that the Mayor had in fact ordered the police department not to act, adding his feelings about that decision.
"There is no place for personal, political bias when it comes to providing public safety services to our communities," Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner said in a statement on Facebook. "In that respect, our Mayor, who is also our Police Commissioner, has failed miserably." (Wilamette Week)
Who are you going to trust when it comes to objective evaluation of police response: the local top cop, or the mayor of perhaps the most liberal sanctuary city in the United States, who can’t even muster a complete denial of his alleged stand-down order?
There’s long been the perception that police are subject to the will of their elected bosses, especially in cities such as Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco where enforcement of drug and civil laws is liberal, to say the least. The Occupy ICE encampment typifies how out of control a situation can become when police are prevented from doing their jobs. Over the course of a month-plus, the temporary residents in the encampment were emboldened by what can only be characterized as a free pass issued from the top-down.
The Wall Street Journal described the scene as one of squalor and chaos.
‘Along the trolley tracks behind the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office, a biohazard cleanup crew works under police protection. It finds used needles and buckets of human waste simmering in nearly 100-degree heat. The smell of urine and feces fills the block. For more than five weeks, as many as 200 people had occupied the site to demand ICE’s immediate abolition. They’re gone now, but a community is left reeling. Thirty-eight days of government-sanctioned anarchy will do that.’ (WSJ)
So, the beatniks of the Occupy ICE Hooverville ratcheted up their rhetoric steadily, to the point where employees in the federal building feared for their lives. But, when they called for help, Portland PD weren’t there to help them. If the police union head is to be believed, this was not the choice of the police themselves, but the order of a politically rabid mayor lacking the nuance or common sense to understand when dedication to a political agenda crosses the most basic ethical lines.
‘ICE employees have said police refused to show up to help employees enter and exit the federal ICE building or to retrieve vehicles from the parking lot that had been blocked by protesters.’ (Willamette Week)
What is concerning is not necessarily the irresponsible behavior of Mayor Ted Wheeler, however. It’s that apparently, nobody broke ranks, responding to calls for help – politicians be damned. It’s become increasingly difficult to act autonomously in any job, and defying the boss is rarely a good idea. But police have never had the typical job, take an oath, and are supposed to be ruled first and foremost by a duty to preserve the peace and protect the citizenry.
Yet, the Portland Occupy ICE incident is a revealing, concerning view into the reality that even decent policemen have a tendency towards self-preservation that, in this case overrode their inclination to respond to pleas for help.
The Portland precedent should serve as a final wake-up call to anybody who still believes that they don’t have to be prepared to fend for themselves in any given situation. Even if those tasked with protecting you are in position to do so, a deterrent as seemingly meager as the commands of an ideologically and ethically compromised mayor could leave you defenseless.
That’s right: you must take care of yourself. Even the police – as well-intended as most are – can’t be relied upon to do it for you.
In this respect, the Portland precedent is equal parts alarming and refreshing. Alarming in the sense that most of us would hope that police would protect us when possible, even at the cost of their own job. But refreshing in the sense that, eventually, the rejection of the nanny state mentality should be embraced completely, even if it means realizing that police aren’t our personal security force – far from it.
And, to be fair, the Portland PD isn’t the first front-page example of cowardice from leadership compromising the safety of the people. The stand-down orders issued to the L.A. police force during the notorious 1992 riots is perhaps the most notorious in history. But then, it was not a camp of drug-shooting, ICE-protesting hipsters causing a ruckus, but nearly the entire section of South Central Los Angeles, whipped into a riotous frenzy by the Rodney King verdict. Yet, even with an obvious threat to their lives, some officers broke rank to protect the people as best they could.
We can’t be certain if some officers did defy orders to respond to the calls for help outside of the federal building in Portland. Mayor Wheeler would have us believe that all calls were answered, but his version includes a pseudo-denial that any stand-down order was issued in the first place, so we have to take his claims with a grain of salt.
Even giving Portland PD the benefit of the doubt, it’s clear by first-hand reports that most of those calls were not responded to as they should have been. This is a shame, but also a rude awakening. We have entered the age when politics has come to directly degrade public safety, and that lesson must be learned one way or another. While it’s still shocking when this reality affects one personally, it’s the sad reality of the day.
Wish that things would return to normalcy, rationality and law and order. But also, be prepared for the worst, and more importantly, be prepared to deal with the worst without assistance.