Across the United States, protests have showed no signs of stopping following the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd. In response, the Trump administration deployed federal forces in cities like Portland, Oregon, where they reportedly snatched protesters off the streets. Now, the mayors of several major cities have penned a letter condemning the "para-military type forces".
It's clear that President Trump is eager to quell protests as the election approaches. Over the past few days, reports of masked agents in Portland have grown. One protester, Mark Pettibone, told Oregon Public Broadcasting about his detainment, stating, "I am basically tossed into the van. And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn't see and they held my hands over my head."
The problems in Portland stem not only from the government utilizing snatch-and-grab tactics but also from the fact that, as Business Insider reported, there is no discernible chain of command. Federal agents are out in unmarked vehicles and nobody knows who they are or what agencies they're working with.
Some clarity came last Thursday, when Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf released a statement. “The city of Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob," Wolf wrote, "while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city. Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it."
Wolf placing the blame on "lawless" and "violent" anarchists is right in line with the administration's overall trend of vilifying protesters. But his statement did confirm DHS involvement in Portland. This was further solidified Monday when CNN reported that Trump plans to send 150 of DHS's investigative agents to Chicago for 60 days.
In response to both Portland and Trump's plans to deploy agents elsewhere, a group of mayors penned an open letter to Attorney General William Barr and Wolf. The mayors wrote:
The unilateral deployment of [federal forces] into American cities is unprecedented and violates fundamental constitutional protection and tenets of federalism. ... Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli said in recent days that the administration intends "to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we're responsible for around the country." This abuse of power cannot continue.
The mayors of Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Portland, and Washington, D.C., all signed onto the letter. Along with condemning the federal administration's actions, it called for a congressional investigation of what Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) described as "unconstitutional terror attacks."
The Trump administration's deployment of federal troops is part of a steady build. Over the past few months, police have routinely brutalized protesters. They have deployed chemical weapons like tear gas whose full effects on the human body are not actually known. Last month, Teen Vogue reported that although more research is needed, tear gas has been suggested to lead to miscarriages in the past.
In addition, the use of projectiles has resulted in life-altering injuries. Police have shot protesters in the head with rubber bullets, resulting in serious injuries — at least one protester lost an eye — and targeted journalists in multiple cities. In Chicago, police were captured on video punching an 18-year-old protester in the face and knocking several of her teeth out.
Rather than condemn police, officials have relied on the troubling (and false) outside agitator narrative and scapegoated anarchists. In May, Trump infamously threatened Minneapolis protesters by saying, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts." He doubled down with his criminalization of protests with the creation of a DHS task force to protect statues last month.
While horrifying, the tactics displayed in Portland are nothing new. These snatch-and-grab campaigns are much like ones DHS and ICE already used to target immigrant communities. As Michael C. Dorf, a professor of constitutional law at Cornell University, told the Los Angeles Times: “It is a standard move of authoritarians to use the pretext of quelling violence to bring in force, thereby prompting a violent response and then bootstrapping the initial use of force in the first place."