In the clip, he can be seen wearing goggles and a face mask among a group of protestors, the air hazy with tear gas. He holds his nose, coughs, and drinks water, and at one point, exits the demonstration.
“It stings. It's hard to breathe. I can tell you with 100 percent honesty I saw nothing that provoked this response,” Wheeler said to the New York Times, per CNN. “I'm not afraid but I am pissed off.”
While CNN said it’s unclear who dispensed the tear gas, CBS reports that the chemical weapon was administered by the U.S. government via federal police. There is no indication that Wheeler was targeted, and local police said they didn’t deploy CS gas, a type of tear gas that’s used as a riot-control agent.
Wheeler joined the crowd on Wednesday night after listening to and answering protesters’ questions. Demonstrators and federal forces have continually clashed for the last week, heightening protests fighting police brutality, which have been ongoing for over 50 days.
The mayor, a Democrat, has been opposed to the federal agents’ presence in Portland. “It is an unconstitutional occupation,” Wheeler said to the crowd. “The tactics that have been used by our federal officers are abhorrent. They did not act with probable cause, people are not being told who they are being arrested by, and you're being denied basic constitutional rights.”
Protesters and local leaders have been vehemently against the presence of federal officers, who were sent by Trump to guard federal property. “This is clearly a waste of federal resources and it's getting increasingly dangerous,” Wheeler told CNN. “We did not ask the feds to be here. We do not want them here. They're not helping the situation. They're not appropriately trained, and we're demanding that they leave.”
A group of protesters gathered outside the city’s federal courthouse on Wednesday night. While they were largely peaceful, some demonstrators began launching fireworks at the building and igniting fires outside. Federal agents then deployed the gas into the crowd. Just after 12:30 a.m., Portland police declared the situation a riot because of the “violent conduct of the large group” and instructed people to leave. Most declined, with tensions escalating over the next several hours.
Not everyone was happy to see Wheeler at the protest. The mayor has been harshly criticized for failing to take control of local police, who deployed tear gas on protesters multiple times before federal officers arrived last week.