Mayors Urge Congress to Block Deployment of Federal Troops to Cities

July 28, 2020 by Dan McCue
Federal officers deploy tear gas and crowd control munitions at demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

WASHINGTON – The Democratic mayors of six U.S. cities have sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking Congress to take steps to bar the federal government from deploying federal agents to municipalities that don’t want them.

The letter, sent Monday, comes as the Trump administration is considering sending more federal agents to Portland, Ore.

“Over the last several weeks, Americans have responded to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others by protesting the structural racism embedded in our country,” the mayors of Portland; Seattle; Chicago; Kansas City; Albuquerque; and Washington wrote to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate.

“We are encouraged that so many of our residents are exercising their First Amendment rights to stand up against these injustices,” they continued. “At the same time, we are outraged that the administration has responded to these First Amendment-protected gatherings by authorizing the deployment of riot-gear clad forces to Washington, D.C., Portland, Seattle and other communities across the country without the consent of local authorities.”

“This administration’s egregious use of federal force on cities over the objections of local authorities should never happen,” they contended.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty late Monday called for a meeting with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to discuss a cease-fire and removal of heightened federal forces from Portland.

But the administration said it won’t discuss removing the agents until attacks on the federal courthouse in the city — its stated reason for sending the agents in the first place — cease.

“It is not a solution to tell federal officers to leave when there continues to be attacks on federal property and personnel,” U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said. ”We are not leaving the building unprotected to be destroyed by people intent on doing so.”

President Donald Trump also weighed in on Monday, saying on Twitter that the federal properties in Portland “wouldn’t last a day” without the presence of the federal agents.

The letter stems from nearly two months of nightly protests in Portland and other cities since George Floyd was killed.

Last week, Wheeler was tear-gassed by federal agents as he stood outside the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse trying to rally the demonstrators.

Critics of the mayor, including several prominent business leaders, have said he should have brought the situation under control long before the agents showed up.

Supporters blame the federal agent — and by extension, the Trump administration — for inflaming the situation.

The internal watchdog at the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation last Thursday into the alleged use of force by law enforcement personnel against protesters in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

In a statement, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he “is initiating a review to examine the DOJ’s and its law enforcement components’ roles and responsibilities in responding to protest activity and civil unrest in Washington, D.C., and in Portland, Ore., over the prior two months.”

He said he was initiating the probe after receiving requests from members of Congress, members of the public and a referral from a U.S. attorney in Oregon.

The review will include looking at how DOJ law enforcement was trained and instructed to deal with demonstrators, whether they complied with rules of engagement and “applicable identification requirements,” as well as the use of “lethal munitions, chemical agents, and other uses of force.”

Among those who have condemned the deployment of unrequested federal law enforcement officers is the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which said in a statement, “America’s mayors are outraged by and oppose the unrequested deployment of federal law enforcement officers to our cities. 

“As we have seen in Portland, their presence and their actions have exacerbated a situation that Mayor Ted Wheeler said was calming down and led to increased violence in the streets. Further it terrorized peaceful demonstrators, some of whom were allegedly rounded up by individuals in military fatigues who did not identify themselves and put into unmarked vehicles, never being told why they were being detained,” the conference said.

“There are many things the federal government can do to help cities and support local efforts, but sending in federal agents without any coordination with mayors and governors is not among them,” it added.

President Trump responded to the criticism by announcing he was also considering sending federal agents to Chicago, Ill., and Albuquerque, N.M.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot later said she’d spoken to the president, who told her he planned to send federal resources to Chicago “to supplement ongoing federal investigations pertaining to violent crime.”

Lightfoot said the conversation was “brief and straightforward” and that she was promised the “resources” would solely be investigatory in nature and would be coordinated through the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The mayor has made clear that if there is any deviation from what has been announced, we will pursue all available legal options to protect Chicagoans,” her office said in a statement.

Lightfoot also sent a letter to the president, telling him “what we do not need, and what will certainly make our community less safe is secret, federal agents deployed to Chicago … As any law enforcement official will tell you; what is needed more than anything in an operation to protect lives is a clear mission, a detailed operations plan, and a chain of command.”

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller responded to Trump’s comments by saying “we always welcome partnerships in constitutional crime fighting that are in step with our community, but we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse to send secret police to Albuquerque.

“Operation Legend is not real crime fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work and makes us less safe,” Keller said.

Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier also released a statement in which he said, “contrary to claims by politicians in Washington. D.C., Albuquerque has been keeping overall violent crime flat and has reduced homicides thus far this year.

“We have made reducing gun violence a top priority and have worked with our community to make the city safer,” Geier said. “While we welcome any assistance and additional resources to address violent crime, the president promised help in the past and has not yet followed through.

“We are still waiting on the $10 million Operation Relentless Pursuit funding that was promised last year to help us with our goal to hire more officers and to bring in additional federal law enforcement agents to assist us in our crime fighting efforts. While I will try to remain optimistic, I won’t hold my breath until we see all this actually come to fruition,” the police chief said.

In their letter to congressional leaders, the mayors say, as demonstrated now in Portland, “federal forces have used the pretext of protecting federal property to also patrol streets, way outside of their lawful jurisdiction, arrest residents without cause and trample on Constitutional rights.

“These actions further erode trust in government at all levels; are de-legitimizing local law enforcement; and escalate, rather than de-escalate tensions,” they said. “We live in a democratic republic, not an authoritarian police state. We must block this type of dangerous and undemocratic exercise of power once and for all.”

It follows a letter sent by 14 mayors last week to Trump administration officials calling for them to stop deploying federal officers to cities in response to protests. 

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