Last week, President Trump sent federal officers to Portland, Ore.—presumably with the intent to deter or slow protests. Instead, the legally questionable actions of these agents have, for many, reaffirmed the necessity of speaking out against police brutality and misconduct.
Since their arrival in Portland, federal officers deployed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have sparked national attention and outrage.
From attacking demonstrators with batons and tear gas (despite local rulings prohibiting police from using tear gas against protesters), to detaining them in unmarked vans, officers have threatened the safety of numerous Portland protesters.
“It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi,” said Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old demonstrator who was detained and searched by men in military fatigues. “It was like being preyed upon.”
Their actions fly in the face of desires of local officials—like Gov. Kate Brown (D), who has spoken out about the violence and called for Trump to remove officers.
Moreover, many of the federal agents in Portland have not received proper training in riot control or mass demonstrations, according to an internal memo released by the DHS, and do not have the necessary experience to properly monitor and provide law enforcement during city protests. Many work for the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), which functions similarly to SWAT and often investigates drug smuggling operations.
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Lawsuits and Callouts: Local Leaders and Activists Fight Back
Gov. Brown has been firm in her disapproval of the federal presence in Portland, calling on Trump and the DHS to remove agents from the city.
Brown did not mince words on July 19 when describing Trump’s inability to lead the nation:
“The Trump administration deployment of federal officers on the streets of Portland is a mere distraction from the president’s failure to lead this nation through a global pandemic.”
Brown also emphasized that the federal presence is worsening the situation in Portland.
“What’s needed is de-escalation and dialogue,” she said—but that Trump is instead “adding gasoline to a fire.”
The governor has been clear that she sees Trump’s actions as an undemocratic abuse of federal power:
I was very, very clear with the Trump administration and the head of the Homeland Security to take their federal troops off the streets of Portland. The Trump administration needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives. We don’t have a secret police in this country. This is not a dictatorship. And Trump needs to get his officers off the streets.
Other city and state officials have also spoken out about the legal and constitutional dangers posed by the presence of federal officers in Portland.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has personally experienced attacks by the federal officers: Recent video footage shows him being hit with tear gas while talking to protesters. He calls Trump’s use of federal policing “completely unconstitutional,” and has reiterated that the presence of federal agents is “sharply escalating the situation.”
Some city officials, such as city commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, have joined protesters in demonstrating against the federal officers. Hardesty said the city will “not allow armed military forces to attack our people” and instead, Portlanders “will come together to stand up for our constitutional rights.”
Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon’s attorney general, is filing a lawsuit contesting the detention of protesters in unmarked vans. The ACLU has also sued the DHS and U.S. Marshals Service for the violence and unconstitutional attacks used against protesters.
In sending federal agents to Portland, Trump has once again shown a disregard for the rights of protesters, as well as for the desires of state and local officials. From his handling of coronavirus, to his response to recent protests and demonstrations, Trump has repeatedly failed to prioritize the rights and safety of U.S. citizens.
Governor Brown summed up Trump’s priorities in addressing protests: “This is about scoring political points. It’s about political theater. It’s clearly not about problem-solving, and it’s obviously not about public safety.”
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