WATCH: Federal officers crack down on protesters in Portland
As demonstrations over the death of George Floyd continue for a 50th day in Portland, Oregon, local authorities and federal officials are sparring over the use of camouflaged authorities without identification who are arresting protesters.
Federal officials say they are upholding an executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump to protect monuments or statues.
But, local officials say the move is an abuse of power and have asked that federal agents be removed from the city.
Here’s a look at what’s going on.
Why are people protesting?
Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Portland daily to protest racism and police brutality.
Floyd’s death acted as a catalyst to growing unrest over incidents of police brutality, igniting protests across the U.S. and around the world.
In Portland, demonstrators have gathered around the federal courthouse each day, with crowds exceeding 10,000 at times.
The protests for the most part have been peaceful, but on a few occasions, protesters and police have clashed, resulting in violence.
Portland police have used tear gas on the protesters, some of whom sprayed graffiti on buildings.
Federal officers deployed
On Friday, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said agents had been deployed to Portland to support a newly launched U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unit — called the Federal Protective Service.
The unit has been tasked with enforcing an executive order signed by Trump last month to protect federally-owned monuments and buildings.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said some of its officers are also assisting the DHS.
Since being deployed, federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests in Portland so far, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Thursday.
Several videos that have circulated widely on social media appear to show officers in camouflage and body armour, but without any other identification, arresting protesters or pulling them into unmarked vans.
A number of U.S. lawmakers have shared their concerns over the practice.
“Who are these people? What agency do they work for? Who gives them orders? What are their use of force guidelines? What is their jurisdiction in Portland?” Virginia Rep. Don Beyer wrote on Twitter.
“This lack of accountability is UNACCEPTABLE from federal authorities,” he continued. “We don’t have secret police in the United States.”
Who are these people? What agency do they work for? Who gives them orders? What are their use of force guidelines? What is their jurisdiction in Portland?
This lack of accountability is UNACCEPTABLE from federal authorities.
We don't have secret police in the United States. https://t.co/gHMJadt7BH
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) July 17, 2020
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren called the situation “outrageous.”
“The U.S. government should not be using unidentified federal officers as a secret police force to terrorize US citizens & violate their constitutional rights,” she wrote.
I thought we’d already covered this after the attacks in Lafayette Square: the US government should not be using unidentified federal officers as a secret police force to terrorize US citizens & violate their constitutional rights. This is outrageous. https://t.co/EIXbZmHXak
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) July 17, 2020
In a statement to CNN, CBP admitted to being one of the agencies involved in the arrests.
“Violent anarchists have organized events in Portland over the last several weeks with willful intent to damage and destroy federal property, as well as, injure federal officers and agents,” the agency said in a statement to CNN. “These criminal actions will not be tolerated.”
Portland police Chief Chuck Lovell told reporters on Friday that his officers are in contact with the federal agents, but that neither controls the others’ actions.
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“We do communicate with federal officers for the purpose of situational awareness and deconfliction,” Lovell said. “We’re operating in a very, very close proximity to one another.”
An unlawful assembly has been declared downtown. Leave the area to the west. SW Columbia to W Burnside from SW 1st to I-405 is now closed. Failure to follow this direction may subject you to arrest, citation, or use of force including crowd control munitions. Leave the area now.
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) July 18, 2020
Just after 5 a.m. Saturday morning, Portland police said unlawful assembly had been declared downtown, and urged protesters to leave the area.
“Failure to follow this direction may subject you to arrest, citation, or use of force including crowd control munitions,” the tweet reads. “Leave the area now.”
A ‘blatant abuse of power’
In a tweet on Thursday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown called Trump’s decision to deploy federal officers to patrol the streets in Portland a “blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”
“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” she wrote. “The President is failing to lead this nation.”
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
According to Brown, she asked Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, to remove all federal officers from Oregon.
“His response showed me he is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes,” Brown wrote. “He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”
However, Wolf — who traveled to Oregon on Thursday — called protesters “lawless anarchists.”
“The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city,” Wolf said in a statement Thursday.
“Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it. ”
Wolf blamed state and city authorities for not putting an end to the protests. But Portland police said Friday they wound up arresting 20 people overnight.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler called for the agents to be removed from the city.
“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” he said.
In a tweet directed at Trump on Friday, Wheeler called the situation “an attack on our democracy.”
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley also condemned the arrests, saying “authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters.”
“These Trump/Barr tactics designed to eliminate any accountability are absolutely unacceptable in America, and must end,” Merkley wrote on Twitter.
Authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters. These Trump/Barr tactics designed to eliminate any accountability are absolutely unacceptable in America, and must end. pic.twitter.com/PE4YfZ9Vqd
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) July 16, 2020
Oregon Department of Justice, ACLU file lawsuits
In a statement Friday evening, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said a lawsuit would be filed against the DHS, U.S. Marshals Service, CBP and the Federal Protection Service alleging they “seized and detained Oregonians without probable cause.”
“These tactics must stop. They not only make it impossible for people to assert their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully,” she said. “They also create a more volatile situation on our streets.”
Rosenblum said the Oregon Department of Justice is asking the federal court to “stop the federal police from secretly stopping and forcibly grabbing Oregonians off our streets.”
She also announced a state-led criminal investigation into an incident in Portland last week in which a protester was seriously injured.
What’s more, in a series of tweets on Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union said it would be taking federal authorities in Portland to court.
BREAKING: The @ACLU_OR is taking federal authorities in Portland, Oregon, to court.
This is a fight to save our democracy. These federal agents must be stopped and removed from the city.
— ACLU (@ACLU) July 17, 2020
“This is a fight to save our democracy,” the tweet reads. “These federal agents must be stopped and removed from the city.”
According to the ACLU, the lawsuit seeks to block the DHS and other agencies from attacking journalists and legal observers at protests.
“We’re bringing the full power of the ACLU to bear until this lawless policing ends,” a subsequent tweet reads.
–With files from The Associated Press and Reuters
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.