Portland's mayor tear gassed by federal agents

The mayor of Portland, Ore., was tear gassed by federal agents late Wednesday as he stood at a fence guarding a federal courthouse during another night of protest against the presence of the agents, who were sent by President Donald Trump to quell unrest in the city.

Prior to the incident, Ted Wheeler faced a mixed reaction from crowds as tensions have risen

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The mayor of Portland, Ore., was tear gassed by federal agents late Wednesday as he stood at a fence guarding a federal courthouse during another night of protest against the presence of the agents, who were sent by President Donald Trump to quell unrest in the city.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, said it was the first time he'd been tear gassed and appeared slightly dazed and coughed as he put on a pair of goggles someone handed him and drank water. He didn't leave his spot at the front, however, and continued to take gas. Around Wheeler, the protest raged, with demonstrators lighting a large fire in the space between the fence and the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse amid the pop-pop-pop of federal agents deploying tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd.

Earlier in the night, Wheeler was mostly jeered as he tried to rally demonstrators who have clashed nightly with federal agents but was briefly applauded when he shouted "Black Lives Matter" and pumped his fist in the air. The mayor has opposed federal agents' presence in Oregon's largest city, but he has faced harsh criticism from many sides and his presence wasn't welcomed by many, who yelled and swore at him.

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"I want to thank the thousands of you who have come out to oppose the Trump administration's occupation of this city," Wheeler told hundreds of people gathered downtown near the federal courthouse. "The reason this is important is it is not just happening in Portland … we're on the front line here in Portland."

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Some Portland residents, including city council members, have accused Wheeler of not reining in local police, who have used tear gas multiple times before federal agents arrived early this month in response to nearly two months of nightly protests since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Others, including business leaders, have condemned Wheeler for not bringing the situation under control before the agents showed up.

Protesters in the crowd held signs aloft that read "Tear Gas Ted" in reference to the Portland Police Bureau's use of the substance before federal agents arrived. When the mayor left the protest, around 12:40 a.m., some protesters surrounded him and shouted angrily at him as he walked away. One person shouted, "You've got to be here every single night!"

While taking questions Wednesday night — and before he was tear gassed — Wheeler was criticized for the actions of his own police department, not defunding the local police and not having Portland police protect people from federal agents. The mayor said he wants to use the energy of the protests to make changes.

Wheeler then addressed the much larger crowd from a raised balcony, saying: "I am here tonight to stand with you."

Federal government faces lawsuits

Earlier Wednesday, the city council banned police from co-operating with federal agents or arresting reporters or legal observers. The presence of the agents has angered local residents, with a man hospitalized in serious condition nearly two weeks after getting struck by what appeared to be a rubber bullet fired by a federal officer in fatigues.

Wheeler's tense nighttime appearance downtown came hours after attorneys for Oregon urged a judge to issue a restraining order against agents deployed to quell the protests.

Demonstrators look at a fire behind a fence during a protest Wednesday in Portland. The White House has justified the presence of federal officers in the city due to the destruction of federal property, including the courthouse, which has become a flashpoint. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

The arguments from the state and the U.S. government came in a lawsuit filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who accuses federal agents of arresting protesters without probable cause, whisking them away in unmarked cars and using excessive force. Federal authorities have disputed those allegations.

The lawsuit is part of the growing pushback to Trump sending federal agents to Portland and announcing they would be going to Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M., to fight rising crime, a move that's deepening the country's political divide and potentially setting up a constitutional crisis months ahead of the presidential election. Democratic mayors of 15 cities condemned the use of federal officers in a letter to the U.S. attorney general.

The state acknowledged that federal agents have the right to defend the courthouse but argued that they had overstepped.

The lawsuit is one of several filed over authorities' response to the Portland protests. On Thursday, a judge will hear arguments in a legal challenge that the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of journalists and legal observers who say they were targeted and attacked by Portland police while documenting demonstrations.

Some fed-up Portland residents have taken to posting to social media to depict peaceful and quiet scenes throughout their hometown, trying to emphasize to those only aware of the media coverage of hostilities that the conflict is being played out in a very small section of the city.

With files from CBC News