Opinion: Americans want peace, not Portland's riots and perverse leadership
Portland has suffered through more than 80 consecutive nights of violent riots. Enough is enough.
These endless riots are not saving Black lives. They are destroying lives. They are destroying businesses. They are rending the social fabric of the entire city.
The political leadership in Portland and elsewhere has been profoundly lacking and, in some cases, perverse. Just last Saturday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., called for more “unrest,” stating “there needs to be unrest in the streets for as long as there’s unrest in our lives.”
More unrest is not what most Americans want. We vastly prefer to be safe. Assuring public safety should be job number one for any mayor, governor or president. Yet all too often, we see cities wracked by riots go the other way: cutting police budgets, ordering police to stand down in the face of criminal behavior, obstructing cooperation among state, local and federal law enforcement — even barring police from showing riot video to the American people.
This is no way to stop the violence, and the American people know it. Opposition to defunding the police jumped to 79% in the most recent poll conducted in four “battleground” states by Heritage Action for America.
President Trump’s response to the violence is far more in keeping with what the majority of Americans want. When rioters attacked federal officers and the federal courthouse in Portland, he sent additional federal police to protect them — an action perversely labeled as provocation by both Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has tried to straddle the issue. He acknowledged that the federal government has “the right and the duty to protect federal property,” but then accused Trump of using “egregious tactics” and “brutally attacking peaceful protesters” in an attempt to “sow chaos and division.”
But the federal officers weren’t dealing with peaceful protest. They were dealing with violent, premeditated attacks. It is the attackers, their organizers and their supporters who seek to sow chaos and division. They will continue to do so until law and order is restored. Rep. Pressley has stated as much.
Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also seems to be double-minded about “defunding the police.” In June, she said we should be “reimagining how we do public safety in America. We have confused the idea of, to achieve safety, you put more cops on the street.” A better approach, she argued, would be to put more resources into public education, affordable housing, home ownership and access to health care.
It’s a far cry from what she wrote in her 2009 book, "Smart on Crime": “Virtually all law-abiding citizens feel safer when they see officers walking a beat … This is as true in economically poor areas as in wealthy ones.”
Adding officers does prevent crime. One need look no further than Portland. When state police finally joined federal officers near the federal courthouse, the attacks ceased. Unfortunately, the organizers directed the rioters to a different target: Portland police precinct buildings.
To rid Portland of the riots completely, the rioters must be prosecuted for the state and federal crimes they are committing. Sadly, rogue prosecutors are refusing to prosecute rioters and looters in multiple cities across the country, including Portland. This dereliction of duty enables rioters to be released from jail and return to the streets to commit more violence the next night. Indeed, it only emboldens them.
A decade ago, Harris understood the problem with such lenient policies. In her 2009 book she wrote, “Make no mistake, any effort to excuse or ignore criminal behavior leads to more criminal behavior.”
This June, however, after protests turned to looting and violence in Minneapolis, Harris asked her Twitter followers to send money to the Minnesota Freedom Fund to bail out the rioters. The organization subsequently received $35 million and used it to bail out violent criminals, including a suspect who shot at police and a twice-convicted sex offender.
Greg Lewin, interim director of the fund, defended these actions by saying, “I often don’t even look at a charge when I bail someone out. I will see it after I pay the bill because it is not the point. The point is the system we are fighting.” Such radicals have a callous disregard for human life while they pursue their elusive goal of “fighting the system.”
Leniency toward rioting, looting and violence ensures that such activity continues, spreads and escalates. Americans want the opposite — safety, open businesses and thriving communities. That requires political leadership dedicated to protecting citizens, prosecuting criminals and telling the truth. That kind of leadership has long been lacking in many of our cities, leaving the people there to suffer far too long under such violence. Enough is enough.
Lora Ries is the senior research fellow for homeland security at The Heritage Foundation.