"The tactics that the Trump administration are using on the streets of Portland are abhorrent," said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler

By Maria Pasquini
July 19, 2020 07:00 PM
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Federal officers take the street in Portland following a local rally
| Credit: John Rudoff/Sipa USA/AP

Officials in Portland are speaking out amid an increased backlash to the presence of militarized federal agents in the city as well as the violent tactics they have used against local protesters.

Recent video footage from Portland shows federal agents hauling demonstrators away in unmarked vehicles, a tactic that has been used since at least July 14, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. The troops have also been seen using tear gas and projectiles against people in the streets.

"People are being literally scooped off the street into unmarked vans, rental cars," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told CNN on Sunday, as he criticized the way the federal government has chosen to respond to the continued protests against police brutality and racial injustice, which have been going on for around 50 days, following the death of George Floyd.

We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” tweeted President Donald Trump, who is responsible for the deployment. Trump, who has previously threatened military action to states that had not quelled demonstrations to his liking, accused local leadership of having “lost control” as he expressed his commitment to “protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE.”

Tear gas fired after a rally in Portland
| Credit: John Rudoff/Sipa USA/AP
Federal police use gas and pepper spray on Portland protestors
| Credit: ANKUR DHOLAKIA/AFP via Getty Images

However, local lawmakers have said that the presence of federal troops in the city has made the situation worse — not better.

"What's happening here is, we have dozens, if not hundreds of federal troops descending upon our city. And what they're doing is, they are sharply escalating the situation,” Wheeler told NBC News on Sunday, pointing out that until the troops arrived "our local and state law enforcement officials had contained the situation."

"The tactics that the Trump administration are using on the streets of Portland are abhorrent," he continued. "People are being literally scooped off the street into unmarked vans, rental cars, apparently. They are being denied probable cause and they're denied due process."

Wheeler went on to say that “as far as I can see, this is completely unconstitutional."

Federal officers pepper spray a protester at a rally at Portland
| Credit: John Rudoff/Sipa USA/AP
Police respond to Portland protest
| Credit: Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP

A number of local officials, including Wheeler and Gov. Kate Brown, have called on the federal government to remove the agents.

In an interview with MSNBC over the weekend, Brown called Trump’s tactics “purely political theater” and an attempt to distract from his administration’s failure in handling the COVID-19 health crisis. “I’ve asked the federal government for help both in terms of testing supplies and financial resources,” she said. “Instead, the federal government chooses to deploy troopers on our streets.”

“This is part of the core media strategy out of Trump’s White House: to use federal troops to bolster his sagging polling data,” Wheeler said in a recent press conference, according to TIME, as he shared a simple message to the president: "Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city."

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf has argued that the presence of federal troops is necessary in Portland, as he painted the protestors as a “violent mob.”

“Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it,” he wrote in a statement released on Thursday.

Wolf also said in the statement that although local officials have asked them to leave, “DHS will not abdicate its solemn duty to protect federal facilities and those within them.”

Portland protests
| Credit: ANKUR DHOLAKIA/AFP via Getty Images

Oregon senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden as well as Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici announced on Friday that they will be calling for an investigation into the “unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland.”

“The jarring reports of federal law enforcement officers grabbing peaceful protestors off the street should alarm every single American. This is not the way a government operates in a functioning democracy,” Blumenauer said in a press release.

The ACLU of Oregon, which has sued the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service, also said that the presence of federal agents, “should concern everyone in the United States.”