Local Pushback Over Federal Officers in Portland Grows As Trump Threatens Feds Could Deploy to Other Cities

Federal agents disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Monday, July 20, 2020, in Portland.

Federal agents disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Monday, July 20, 2020, in Portland. AP Photo/Noah Berger


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Federal agents reportedly are expected to be sent to Chicago this week, despite objections from local leaders.

State and local officials, legal nonprofits, and national lawmakers are increasingly raising objections to the federal law enforcement presence in Portland. Federal officers, many of whom protesters say lack identification, have been arresting demonstrators near the downtown federal courthouse and putting them in unmarked rental vans. The same situation may soon play out in Chicago, as a media report suggests the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will send 150 agents there this week.

Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said that the actions of federal law enforcement from agencies like the DHS, Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Marshals Service has made the city’s situation “much more dangerous.”

“I’m worried that one of our residents, or one of our local and state law enforcement officers, is going to get killed because of the tactics that they’re currently engaged in," he said. “People are being literally scooped off the street into unmarked vans, rental cars apparently. They’re being denied probable cause and due process. They don’t even know who’s pulling them into the vans.”

Wheeler, along with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, asked federal agencies to retreat and leave protest crowd control to state and local authorities. The request has been denied by DHS, with a representative telling The Washington Post over the weekend that they will stay “as long as the violence demands additional support.”

President Trump defended the deployment of federal troops last week by invoking a June 26 executive order the Secretary of Homeland Security and other top federal officials to request the deployment of “personnel to assist with the protection of federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.”

Last week, Trump suggested that more cities may see federal intervention this week, which he reiterated on Monday, specifically saying he could deploy officers to cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York. The Republican president also noted that all of the cities are run by “liberal Democrats,” calling them weak in the face of protests run amok. Over the weekend, he tweeted that federal law enforcement is “trying to help Portland, not hurt it” because the city’s “leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators … we must protect our federal property, and our people.”

The Chicago Tribune on Monday reported that DHS is making plans to send 150 agents to Chicago this week. DHS did not respond to a request for comment about these plans.

DHS and other federal law enforcement have made about two dozen arrests in Portland near the federal courthouse, where protests calling for racial justice have been ongoing for more than 50 days

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit against the federal law enforcement agencies involved in Portland over the weekend, in which she argued that they were not there with the intent to protect federal property, but “with the intent of discouraging lawful protest.”

Mark Pettibone, a protester who was arrested on July 15 while walking home from a protest, filed an affidavit with Rosenblum’s lawsuit describing the confusion of being detained by officers who pulled up next to him in an unmarked minivan and did not identify themselves. “I did not know whether the men were police or far-right extremists, who, in my experience, frequently don military-like outfits and harass left-leaning protesters in Portland. My first thought was to run,” he said.

After he had been arrested and placed in a holding cell in the federal courthouse, Pettibone said that no one gave him details as to why he had been detained or provided him with a record of his arrest. He was released and not charged. Rosenblum said that someone in Pettibone’s situation could “reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped” and that state law enforcement “could expend unnecessary resources responding to reports of an abduction.”

The ACLU also filed suit against DHS and the U.S. Marshals Service, asking a federal judge to  stop federal law enforcement from “dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers,” who the group says have been tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets while they cover protests.

Democratic national lawmakers, including Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said that they have grown “increasingly alarmed” over the tactics in a Sunday letter to the inspector generals of DHS and the Department of Justice. “Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country,” the lawmakers wrote.

Those concerns were echoed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who represents part of Portland. They said in a joint statement that the arrests resembled those in a banana republic and that “while Portland is the President’s current target, any city could be next.”

In the past few days, Chicago has seen several large scale protests, many of them centering around a statue of Christopher Columbus that protesters say they would like to see taken down. While Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called the violent actions of some police officers and protesters “unacceptable,” she rejected the idea that federal agents are needed in the city. 

"I have great concerns about that, particularly given the track record in the city of Portland," Lightfoot said. "I spent a lot of time yesterday talking with the mayor of Portland to get a sense of what's happened there … That's not what we need.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: Oregon AG Files Lawsuit Challenging Federal Detention of Portland Protesters