Trump’s activation of some 2,000 Department of Homeland Security officials to violently police protests in target cities like Portland, Oregon has incited a steady stream of allegations of excessive use of force and abuses of power. For approximately the last 60 days, Portland and cities around the country have been the sites of major anti-racism protests in response to the killing of George Floyd in police custody, which have earned the ire of President Trump. The federal policing tactics in Portland – and worries that such tactics will be exported elsewhere in the country through Trump, Attorney General Barr, and Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf’s announcement of “Operation LeGend” – are raising serious constitutional concerns.
In one incident on Sunday, July 19, federal agents outside Portland’s federal courthouse were filmed repeatedly striking Navy veteran Christopher David–who approached the police line unarmed and with no apparent malice–with batons and mace. When asked about the video, DHS Deputy Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli stated that “maintaining an appropriate [federal] response is an ongoing obligation.” In other even more alarming incidents, roving federal officers outfitted in fatigues, carrying rifles, but wearing no visible agency identification, were filmed pulling protesters including Mark Pettibone, into unmarked minivans. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol claimed responsibility in Pettibone’s case but ultimately declined to charge him or even inform him of why he was detained, dropping him back on the street in front of the federal courthouse.
CREW has requested records from the Department of Homeland Security, and specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as the Department of Justice and specifically the Marshals Service on the decision to deploy federal law enforcement agents in response to the ongoing protests over racial justice in Portland, Oregon, and Chicago. CREW has also requested any records on any plans or decision to deploy federal law enforcement officers to Albuquerque, New Mexico; Baltimore, Maryland; Detroit, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri; New York City; Oakland, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Finally, CREW has requested communications between elected leaders in Oregon and the agencies, as well as any DHS policies that would outline their response to protests.
The public has an overwhelming interest in understanding how exactly the federal government is justifying sending paramilitary units into American cities, often against the wishes of the local governments in these jurisdictions. Earlier this summer, Barr and DHS deployed federal police to suppress protests in DC, and this continued multi-pronged attack on civilians could be a constitutional violation and raises serious questions about abuse of power. At the very least, the public deserves transparency on why taxpayers are funding paramilitary units to patrol their own communities.