Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon, was tear-gassed by federal agents outside a courthouse building in his city Wednesday night while visiting protesters.
Video from Wednesday night’s protest by the New York Times reporter Mike Baker shows Wheeler, a Democrat, wearing a protective eye mask and a COVID-19 face mask, holding his mouth and nose and coughing as clouds of tear gas rolled across the protesters.
The sound of what appeared to be flash-bang grenades could also be heard in the background.
Protests in the Oregon city have been going on for almost two months since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. Clashes between protesters and federal agents deployed by President Donald Trump to quell the unrest have escalated for over a week.
On Wednesday, protesters lit fires in an area between where they were gathered and the courthouse where federal agents were situated, and the agents responded with tear gas and stun grenades, the Associated Press reported, citing the police.
It was not immediately clear whether the federal law-enforcement officers knew Wheeler was among the demonstrators at the time.
“It’s hard to breathe — it’s a lot harder to breathe than I thought,” Wheeler told The Washington Post afterward of his exposure to tear gas. “This is abhorrent. This is beneath us.”
Hostility from both sides
But Wheeler also encountered hostility from protesters earlier in the night as he attempted to address them, CBS News reported, but was booed and jeered.
He has been accused of failing to crack down on violent tactics, including the use of tear gas, by Portland police officers in their clashes with demonstrators in the early weeks of the Floyd protests, the local news station KOIN reported.
For more than a week, the courthouse has been the scene of clashes between federal agents and protesters, with the presence of the agents denounced by city officials including Wheeler in an extraordinary rift between federal and state authorities.
The Department of Homeland Security said the agents were deployed to protect federal property and quell criminality.
At a Tuesday press conference, the acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, said the agents were deployed because the city took “little to no action” against protesters breaking the law.
Wheeler and other officials at both city and state levels have decried the heavy-handed tactics used by the agents, who have repeatedly used tear gas against demonstrators, including a group of women who formed human chains — dubbed a “wall of moms” — to protect young protesters.