Trump orders federal officers to leave Portland after weeks of outrage

Oregon State Police to step in as DHS announces gradual withdrawal following lawsuits and protests

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 29 July 2020 12:46 EDT
'Wall of Moms' joins Portland's anti-racism protests

Donald Trump's administration has ordered federal agents who have been aggressively policing Black Lives Matter protests in Portland for weeks to leave the city.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that Oregon Governor Kate Brown has "agreed to a joint plan to end the violent activity in Portland directed at federal properties and law enforcement officers."

Governor Brown said that officers from US Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement "have acted as an occupying force and brought violence."

All federal officers will withdraw starting on Thursday, she announced.

"Our local Oregon State Police officers will be downtown to protect Oregonians' right to free speech and keep the peace," she said. "Let's centre the Black Lives Matter movement's demands for racial justice and police accountability. It's time for bold action to reform police practices."

In his announcement, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf characterised the gradual withdrawal in less certain terms, announcing that the department will "continue to re-evaluate" the city's efforts before officers leave.

He said that the agency will "continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure."

"This has been our mission and objective since the violent, criminal activity began," he said.

The deal marks a significant turning point after weeks of protests and heightened violence against demonstrators, who have absorbed blows from impact rounds, tear gas, batons, flash bang grenades and other weapons, while officers have reported being hit with cans, paint, bottles and other items as growing crowds have demanded they leave the city.

Portland has seen roughly two months of daily protests in the wake of police killings of black Americans that have inspired international movements against police brutality and systemic racism.

Mr Trump issued an executive order to deploy federal agents to protect statues and federal property. Reports of serious injuries among protest crowds in Portland soon followed. Critics have pointed to Portland as the president's political theatre of war as his campaign prioritises "law and order" rhetoric. On Saturday, Portland police declared a riot after a group of people compromised a fence surrounding the federal courthouse where officers were staged.

The president has categorised protests as "violent mobs" though a majority of demonstrators – including "walls" of mothers, US military veterans and nurses that have linked arms to defend protesters from federal attacks – have largely remained peaceful. He also had recently promised to boost federal support in the city.

Hours before the announcement, the president said that tactical teams from federal agencies won't be "leaving until they've secured their city".

"We told the governor," he said. "We told the mayor. 'Secure your city.' If they don't secure their city soon, we have no choice. We're going to have to go in and clean it out."

Civil rights groups have sued to prevent what they have categorised as unconstitutional arrests and use of force against demonstrators. A US district judge issued an injunction on 23 July barring police from arresting or attacking journalists and legal observers at protests.

Protesters also accused the administration of violating their constitutionally protected freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable seizures, and right to due process, as officers were sent to "quash" their rights, according to another lawsuit filed by protesters.

The withdrawal announcement arrived as US Attorney General William Barr expanded "Operation Legend" deployments of federal officers into three additional US cities with Democrat mayors in battleground states crucial to the president's re-election.

Administration officials have said the deployment is unrelated to protests and remains focussed on violent gun crimes. Mayors have demanded assurance that heavily armed and armoured agents are not on the scenes of protests in their cities.

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