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Portland, Ore., Mayor Responds To Fallout From Train Murders


We're going to talk now with the mayor of Portland, Ore. That city is debating how to respond to brutal killings on a light rail train last week. The killer was shouting anti-Muslim slurs at two young women when he stabbed three men who tried to defend them. Two of those men died. During the arraignment yesterday, the accused shouted, you call it terrorism, I call it patriotism. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, welcome to the program.

TED WHEELER: Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: If this stabbing were carried out by somebody pledging allegiance to ISIS, we would ask whether the killer acted alone or was part of a network. The suspect in this stabbing posted online about Nazism and white supremacist groups, can you say whether he was a so-called lone wolf or part of a network?

WHEELER: I can tell you that that's part of the investigation that Homeland Security, the FBI and local law enforcement are all taking a look at this from every potential angle. And that's certainly one of the angles that's going to be investigated.

SHAPIRO: I want to talk about part of what comes next. You have been asking the federal government to revoke the permit for two rallies that were scheduled to take place in Portland in the coming weeks. Organizers of one of those marches canceled. The other march described as a Trump-free-speech rally is still scheduled to go on. Tell us what your concern is there.

WHEELER: So my concern is this. Obviously, in Portland, we support the First Amendment of the Constitution. We're a city that has a long tradition of protest and counter-protest. And I want to protect that. But I also believe that we have a significant and imminent public safety issue that I think justified my call to the federal government to withdraw the permit.

I want you to be aware. I first tried to get the protesters themselves to voluntarily withdraw the permit and acknowledge this is not the right time to come into our community to spout about bigotry and hatred. When they didn't do that, I then called on the federal government in the interest of public safety to withdraw the permit.

SHAPIRO: The ACLU disagrees with you here, saying it's essential to preserve everyone's right to speak. I know you have said that hate speech is not protected free speech. In fact, the Supreme Court has often ruled that it is protected free speech.

WHEELER: Well, you know, I'm not going to get into the constitutional argument. I'm not a constitutional lawyer. And I respect the ACLU. But here's the deal. On Sunday, I'm the one who has to protect the public safety, not the ACLU. And I believe there is a balance here between protecting people's rights to speak freely - the way they're entitled to under the tenants of the Constitution - but I also have to balance that against the reality that this community is raw. It is hurting. The wounds are still fresh, and here come a group of people that want to spout a message of bigotry and hatred.

And they are in - whether they like it or not or whether it's fair or not, they are being linked to the alleged perpetrator of the double murder on our train just last Friday. So the timing is terrible for this. And my job here is just to call for common sense and calm and make sure that everybody - protesters and counter-protesters - go home safely at the end of the day on Sunday. That's my goal.

SHAPIRO: The top Republican in the city, the chair of the Multnomah County GOP, has suggested that it might be appropriate to have militias protect Republicans from people who now equate Republicans with Nazis. What do you think of that suggestion?

WHEELER: I think that's ridiculous. And I think it incites violence to even suggest that. You know, we are working with the organizers and the organizers of counter-protests. And I think there is broad agreement that everybody wants this to be a safe event on Sunday. And I don't think the local Republican chairman's calling for militias to come in from outside to protect people is a particularly productive or helpful suggestion.

SHAPIRO: Portland Oregon Mayor Ted Wheeler, thank you very much for joining us.

WHEELER: Thank you. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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