On Sunday afternoon, a day after a man was fatally shot during a Donald Trump rally in downtown Portland, Mayor Ted Wheeler condemned the murder, but offered few solutions for ending the escalating violence between right-wing activists and those demonstrating against police brutality.
“The tragedy last night cannot be repeated,” Wheeler told reporters during an afternoon press conference. “All of us must take a stance against violence. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your politics are.”
The shooting took place around 8:45 pm Saturday, not long after hundreds of Trump supporters drove through downtown Portland as part of a planned pro-Trump rally.
The victim has been identified by friends online as Aaron Danielson, a protester associated with the right-wing group Patriot Prayer. Danielson, who went by the nickname "Jay," was wearing a Patriot Prayer hat when he was fatally shot near SW 3rd and Alder.
The shooting took place as most Trump rally-goers were leaving downtown, and as counter-protesters began to gather in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center—several blocks away from where Danielson was shot. Video taken of the incident shows a brief argument between Danielson and two or three others—followed by the sound of two gunshots. According to Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has yet to identify a suspect in the murder.
Lovell said that PPB tried to keep the pro-Trump caravan contained to I-5 Saturday, but ultimately failed.
“We have limited resources, so we can’t be everywhere at the same time,” Lovell said.
Wheeler, who serves as the city’s police commissioner, said it’s his responsibility to have the PPB fully investigate the murder. But he placed much of the blame for Danielson's death on Trump.
“Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades America has seen this level of political violence?” Wheeler said, speaking directly into TV cameras. “You’ve tried to divide us more than any other figure in modern history… what America needs is for you to be stopped.”
Asked if there were ways PPB could have prevented this murder—and other instances of violence between protesters Saturday evening—Wheeler said he wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know how, operationally, you prevent this,” Wheeler said.
Footage shared online of the car caravan driving through Portland show passengers shooting counter-protesters with paintball guns and mace. Several videos capture vehicles driving at and through crowds of people.
Over the past months of protests against police brutality, Portland officers have repeatedly slashed protesters’ car tires—a tactic PPB has explained is a safety precaution. Asked why officers did not puncture the tires of cars seen driving at members of the public Saturday, Lovell said that option is “not always feasible.”
Both Wheeler and Lovell shared their concerns about people traveling to Portland Sunday to protest Danielson's death. But neither offered new solutions to stemming the potential violence.
“It’s very possible that what happened last night could play a factor in what happens tonight,” said Lovell.
Wheeler added that PPB and other state law enforcement agencies will meet Sunday afternoon to discuss their strategy, because “we’re aware this could become a flash point.” Wheeler and Lovell said they didn’t believe it was necessary for Gov. Kate Brown to deploy the National Guard to assist them. Trump, meanwhile, has insisted the National Guard is the only way to quell Portland protests.
Prior to the afternoon press conference, a number of prominent local civil rights organizations called on Wheeler to resign, due to the way he’s responded to the past 94 days of protest.
“He has offered no meaningful solutions in response to protesters’ demands to curb the racially hostile and brutal practices of Portland Police and has demonstrated an unwillingness to rein in the PPB,” reads a statement signed by the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC), and several other organizations.
“These groups are coming in and terrorizing our community, and our community does not have confidence in law enforcement or our elected leaders to protect us,” said Bobbin Singh, director of the OJRC, during a press call Sunday morning. “I do not think Mayor Wheeler is equipped from any standpoint to address the current situation.”
Wheeler disagrees. At Sunday’s press conference, Wheeler pointed to his past commitments to police reform, referencing a vague “19-point plan” introduced in early June—just a week after the protests against police violence and racism began. The plan does not address the current demands from protesters to make additional cuts to the PPB budget.
Wheeler also dismissed a proposal to transfer the role of police commissioner to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who has repeatedly requested the position. However, he said, that could change in the new year. Wheeler is currently running against urban planner Sarah Iannarone for a second term as mayor. That second term would begin in January 2021.
"I have no plans to transfer the police bureau at this point," he said. "But in January, everything’s on the table.”
Wheeler said he’d like to see community groups step up and support his call to end protester violence, similar to the coalition that joined him in denouncing a planned visit by the Proud Boys, a far-right group tied to white nationalists, in August 2019. Yet several of the groups that supported him then are now calling for his resignation. Wheeler said that shouldn’t impact their ability to take a “stand against violence.”
"It’s okay to have differences of opinion about politics,” he said. “We should have no difference of opinion about violence. We should all stand together.”
An earlier version of this story misidentified the victim as Jay Bishop, another man affiliated with Patriot Prayer. The victim has instead been identified as Aaron Danielson, who often goes by the nickname "Jay." The Mercury regrets this error.