President Donald Trump has said the United States’s federal officers will stay in the protest-wracked city of Portland until local law enforcement officials finish a “clean-up of anarchists and agitators”.
The forces, whose deployment was seen by many as part of the president’s law-and-order strategy for re-election and exacerbated tensions between authorities and anti-racism protesters, had been scheduled to begin their phased withdrawal from Portland.
Trump tweeted late on Friday: “Homeland Security is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!”
Hundreds of demonstrators, some with makeshift shields, were still on the streets of downtown Portland late on Friday, without any federal law enforcement in sight.
Earlier on Friday, Portland police cleared parks and nearby roads around the city centre in anticipation of the phased pullout by federal forces.
City Mayor Ted Wheeler said the deployment was part of the agreement for federal officers to leave.
In a tweet late on Friday, Wheeler thanked the peaceful protesters, and said they had “reclaimed the space that has been a staging ground for violence, to share their powerful message of reformative justice”.
Weeks of protests
Last month, the Trump administration sent federal tactical teams, many wearing combat-like gear, to intervene in the city after weeks of protests against racism and police brutality saw windows broken and graffiti scrawled on the federal court and other buildings.
But their deployment inflamed the situation, especially following footage of protesters being snatched off the street by federal agents and put into unmarked cars.
Democrats said the intervention reeked of a “police state” and that it was a political move to show Trump, who is struggling in the polls ahead of November’s presidential election, to voters as a strict law-and-order president.
Attorney General William Barr has defended the use of federal officers, and rejected any suggestion of the political motivation.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s death, violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims,” Barr said in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.
Under an agreement between Oregon officials and the Trump administration on Wednesday, the federal forces were to begin withdrawing from the city on Thursday.
However, their pull-out was conditional on local law enforcement ensuring the security of the federal court and other buildings that have been targeted by protesters.