The mayor of the US city of Portland has demanded that President Donald Trump remove federal agents he had deployed to the city after some of the officers detained protesters on streets far from the monuments and buildings they were sent to protect.
“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Ted Wheeler said at a news conference on Friday, describing the arrests and the crackdown on the anti-racism protesters as an “absolute abuse of federal law enforcement officials”.
The demand came after multiple videos posted online showed camouflage-clad officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to transport arrested protesters.
“It’s kidnapping people!” one person said off-camera, as officers marched a protester away.
A spokeswoman for the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told Reuters news agency that federal agents had been deployed to Portland to support a newly launched Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unit, tasked with enforcing last month’s executive order from Trump to protect federal monuments and buildings.
The order came amid daily protests in Portland, with demonstrators gathering around the city’s federal courthouse to rally against racism and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, during a May 25 arrest in Minneapolis.
In a statement on Friday, the CBP said its agents were behind the arrest carried out in the video as the officers “had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property”.
“Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location. For everyone’s safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location,” the agency said. However, the video shows no mob.
‘Blatant abuse of power’
Meanwhile, another video showed an officer shoving away medics trying to aid someone. And still, another showed a protester bleeding profusely from his head after federal troops allegedly shot him with a weapon firing non-lethal munitions.
Portland protester Conner O’Shea said agents chased him in an unmarked vehicle on Wednesday while walking with his friend Mark Pettibone back to their cars.
“I know they’re looking for people that are doing graffiti and laser pointing,” he said. “We haven’t done any of that, which makes it all the more scary.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests so far. Some had been detained by the federal court, which has been the scene of protests. But others were grabbed blocks away.
Kate Brown, governor of Oregon, of which Portland is the largest city, called the deployment of federal troops “a blatant abuse of power by the federal government”.
“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Brown wrote on Twitter, adding that Trump was looking for a confrontation in the hopes of winning political points elsewhere.
I told Acting Secretary Wolf that the federal government should remove all federal officers from our streets. His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes. He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.
— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) July 16, 2020
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she would file a lawsuit in federal court against the DHS, the CBP, the Marshals Service and the Federal Protection Service alleging they have violated the civil rights of Oregonians by detaining them without probable cause.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon said the federal agents appear to be violating citizens’ rights, which “should concern everyone in the United States”.
“Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping,” said Jann Carson, interim executive director of ACLU, Oregon.
“The actions of the militarised federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”
Oregon’s two senators and two of its House members announced 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”.
“It’s painfully clear this administration is focused purely on escalating violence without answering my repeated requests for why this expeditionary force is in Portland and under what constitutional authority,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who visited Portland on Thursday, released a statement that included a list of incidents DHS officers had faced since late May in Portland and praised them in a series of tweets on Friday.
“These valiant men and women have defended our institutions of justice against violent anarchists for 48 straight days,” he wrote. He added that DHS officers had been “assaulted with lasers and frozen water bottles” and two officers had been injured.
On Thursday night, federal officers deployed tear gas and fired non-lethal rounds into a crowd of protesters, hours after Wolf visited the city. A few hundred people gathered near the federal court while other protesters went to a police station in another part of the city.
Police told protesters to leave that site after announcing they heard some chanting about burning down the building. Protester Paul Frazier said on Friday the chant was “much more rhetorical than an actual statement”.
Portland police said Friday they wound up arresting 20 people overnight.
Homeland Security acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said Friday morning on US TV show, Fox & Friends, that the federal government has a responsibility to protect buildings such as the court.
“What we’ve seen around the country is where responsible policing is advanced, violence recedes,” Cuccinelli said.
“And Portland hasn’t gotten that memo. Nor have a lot of other cities. And the president is determined to do what we can, within our jurisdiction, to help restore peace to these beleaguered cities.”