Federal agents in green camouflage uniforms have been taking into custody people in the streets of Portland, Oregon who are not close to the federal property that they were sent to protect, in what the ACLU on Friday said “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 the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
“The actions of the militarised federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”
Governor Kate Brown said President Donald Trump, who deployed Department of Homeland Security officers to Portland, is looking for a confrontation in the hopes of winning political points elsewhere.
The Democratic governor on Thursday called the actions “a blatant abuse of power by the federal government”. Her spokesman, Charles Boyle, said Friday that arresting people without probable cause is “extraordinarily concerning and a violation of their civil liberties and constitutional rights”.
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
Federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests so far, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Thursday. Some have been detained near the federal courthouse, which has been the scene of protests. But others were grabbed blocks away.
One video showed two people in helmets and green camouflage with “police” patches grabbing a person on the sidewalk, handcuffing them and taking them into an unmarked vehicle.
“Who are you?” someone asks the pair, who do not respond. At least some of the federal officers belong to the Department of Homeland Security.
“Authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters,” Democratic US Senator Jeff Merkley said in a tweet.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations Oregon chapter said in a statement: “We are now seeing escalating tactics with protesters being unlawfully detained by unknown Federal law enforcement entities.”
US Attorney Billy Williams in Portland said Friday that, based on news accounts that allege federal law enforcement detained two protesters without probable cause, he has requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General to investigate the actions of DHS personnel.
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.
On Thursday night, federal officers deployed tear gas and fired non-lethal rounds into a crowd of protesters, hours after the head of the Department of Homeland Security visited the city and called the demonstrators, who are protesting against racism and police brutality, “violent anarchists.”
A few hundred people gathered near the federal courthouse Thursday night. 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 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 Secretary Chad Wolf said Thursday that state and city authorities are to blame for not putting an end to the protests, angering local officials.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and others have said they did not ask for help from federal law enforcement and have asked them to leave.
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 courthouse.
“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.”
The Department of Homeland Security had no immediate comment when reached by The Associated Press on Friday.
Tensions have escalated in the past two weeks, particularly after an officer with the US Marshals Service fired at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.
The protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have often devolved into violent clashes between smaller groups and the police. The unrest has caused deep divisions in a city that prides itself on its activism and progressive reputation.