Police and security forces in the United States must not use disproportionate force against protesters and journalists or detain them unlawfully, the United Nations human rights office has said.
The comments by Liz Throssell, UN human rights spokeswoman, came as federal agents fired tear gas at Black Lives Matter demonstrators in central Portland in the early hours of Friday amid growing scrutiny over the use of border patrol officers in the Oregon city.
The protests have been taking place since the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of white police two months ago, which led to nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and racism.
“There have been reports that peaceful protesters have been detained by unidentified police officers and that is a worry because it may place those detained outside the protection of the law and may give rise to arbitrary detention and other human rights violations,” Throssell told a Geneva news briefing.
“The authorities should ensure that federal and local security forces deployed are properly and clearly identified and would use force only when necessary, proportionately and in accordance with international standards,” she said.
The US Justice Department said on Thursday it would investigate the use of force by federal agents against protesters in Portland after another night of unrest in which Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed.
The deployment of federal agents in Portland is a flashpoint in what demonstrators and local officials see as a political ploy by US President Donald Trump to drum up a “law and order” campaign as he faces an uphill battle to re-election in a November vote.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the deployment “Operation Diligent Valor”, according to court documents. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has said all federal agents had been making lawful arrests and properly identifying themselves as law enforcement.
Portland crowd singing “hands up please don’t shoot me” tonight pic.twitter.com/G90EKJttL2
— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) July 24, 2020
Portland Mayor Wheeler, a Democrat, has called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Wheeler said the city was under a “federal occupation” and demanded the federal security forces leave the city.
“We are standing firmly with our non-violent protesters,” Wheeler added.
US authorities say they must act to protect federal property and officers, while local leaders say their presence has made the situation more volatile and urge the agents to leave.