US protests: Oregon takes legal action against federal agents

The state’s top prosecutor has sued federal agencies for ‘unlawful law enforcement’ amid continued protests in Portland.

Federal law enforcement officers, deployed under the Trump administration's executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings, face-off with protesters in Portland, Oregon [Nathan Howard/Reuters]
Federal law enforcement officers, deployed under the Trump administration's executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings, face-off with protesters in Portland, Oregon [Nathan Howard/Reuters]

Portland protesters have taken to the streets for the 52nd night amid growing condemnation of federal agency forces deployed to the city and the law enforcement tactics they have used.

The most recent night of unrest on Saturday came shortly after the state’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, announced she had filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), US Marshals Service, US Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Protection Service saying their tactics infringe upon the civil rights of protesters in the state. 

Officers from those agencies had been sent to Portland in recent weeks in what the administration of President Donald Trump has characterised as an attempt to restore order following weeks of unrest after the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25.

A demonstrator reacts to tear gas released by federal law enforcement officers in Portland, Oregon [Caitlin Ochs/Reuters]

The administration has said the agencies are protecting federal buildings and monuments, including the city’s federal court, which has been covered in graffiti amid the demonstrations. However, their actions have reportedly extended beyond the federal properties. 

“The federal administration has chosen Portland to use their scare tactics to stop our residents from protesting police brutality and from supporting the Black Lives Matter movement,” Rosenblum said in a statement, adding she is also seeking a temporary restraining order that would prevent federal authorities from unlawfully arresting protesters.

The lawsuit comes after several reported instances of federal officers detaining demonstrators, including incidents in which agents in fatigues and without identification took protesters into unmarked vehicles for questioning on streets far from federal property. 

Federal agents have also fired tear gas and projectiles into crowds of gathered protesters. 

One video of clashes last week appeared to show federal agents preventing medics from aiding a wounded protester, while another appeared to show a protester bleeding profusely after being hit by a projectile.

A criminal investigation has been opened into the wounding of one protester near the federal court, Rosenblum said. 

“These tactics must stop,” she added in the statement. “They not only make it impossible for people to assert their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully, they also create a more volatile situation on our streets.”

Growing condemnation

Local and state officials have roundly condemned the federal government’s actions amid the increased crackdowns, saying the presence of the agents has exacerbated, not quelled, the unrest. 

On Saturday, protesters attempted to tear down a fence that had been erected in front of the federal court.

Police also said protesters had broken into the Portland Police Association office and lit the building on fire. The fire was later extinguished and no injuries were immediately reported. 

Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor called the actions of the federal agents an abuse by federal law enforcement officials, while Oregon’s two senators and two of its House members said they will also be asking the DHS inspector general, as well as the US Department of Justice, to investigate “the unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland”.

A federal law enforcement officer spreads tear gas during a protest over racial inequality in Portland, Oregon [Caitlin Ochs/Reuters]

Late on Saturday, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi voiced major criticism of the federal agents’ actions. 

“Last month, the administration tear-gassed peaceful protestors in Washington,” she said, referencing the controversial and violent clearing of mostly peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, on June 1 by federal authorities. 

“Now, videos show them kidnapping protestors in unmarked cars in Portland,” she added in the statement, which was also signed by Portland Congressman Earl Blumenauer and promised quick action by the House of Representatives to stop what they called this “blatant abuse of power”.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who visited Portland on Thursday, has defended the officers’ actions, releasing a statement that included a list of incidents the agency says DHS officers have faced since late May in Portland, while praising the agents in a series of tweets on Friday.

“The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days,” he said. “Each night the violent anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.”

Further compounding criticism of the agents’ actions, a New York Times report published on Saturday cited an internal DHS memo that suggested the personnel sent to Portland by the agency did not have the proper training or equipment to respond to demonstrators.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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