Portland protests: Ban federal agents from cities, Democratic mayors say

  • Published
Federal law enforcement officers on the streets of PortlandImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The presence of federal law enforcement officers on the streets of Portland is controversial

Six Democratic Party mayors have urged the US Congress to block the Trump administration from sending federal law enforcement agents to their cities.

In a letter, the mayors argue that the agents' presence, against the request of local authorities, is unlawful.

Among the signatories is the mayor of Portland, where federal agents have clashed with anti-racism protesters.

It comes as US Attorney General William Barr is set to defend their deployment during congressional testimony.

Mr Barr is to say that the Department of Justice's decision to send security forces to the city of Portland, Oregon, was justified following attacks on federal buildings there.

Portland has seen 61 consecutive days of protests, which escalated after federal officers arrived this month.

The Portland protests began as part of the nationwide racial justice rallies triggered by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May.

US President Donald Trump has said he may send forces to other cities to defend federal buildings from what he called anarchists and agitators.

Mr Barr, who was appointed by Mr Trump and has defended the president's campaign team over the Russia report, has been accused by Democrats of politicising the justice department.

The mayors of Portland, Chicago, Seattle, Albuquerque (New Mexico), Kansas City (Missouri) and Washington DC signed a letter on Monday accusing the Trump administration of "egregious use of federal force".

"We call on Congress to pass legislation to make clear that these actions are unlawful and repugnant," the letter, sent to the leaders of both parties in the Senate and House of Representatives and tweeted by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, added.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

What will the attorney general say?

According to his prepared remarks, Mr Barr will say in Tuesday's testimony to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives Judiciary Committee: "The most basic responsibility of government is to ensure the rule of law, so that people can live their lives safely and without fear.

"The Justice Department will continue working to meet that solemn responsibility."

It will be his first appearance before the committee since becoming attorney general in February last year.

Mr Barr will deny he acted at the behest of US President Donald Trump, a Republican, when he interceded in criminal cases against his political allies - such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

He will also accuse Democrats of "conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the president's factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions".

Why has Barr been asked to testify?

Democrats say Mr Barr has turned the Department of Justice into a political tool for the president, though he insists he maintains independence from the White House.

They have previously accused the attorney general of releasing a distorted summary of justice department special counsel Robert Mueller's report on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

His department has also been criticised for sending federal officers to forcibly disperse protesters in Washington DC.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
US Attorney General William Barr will face sharp questions from Democrats

A National Guard major will dispute the White House's account of that June demonstration in separate congressional testimony on Tuesday.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler wrote this month: "Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country."

What's happening in Portland?

The protests had already been going on for weeks when federal agents were sent to Portland on 4 July to guard federal buildings.

Local officials say the demonstrations were peaceful until the federal agents showed up, but the justice department says that is not true.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Federal officers attempted to disperse crowds as they started to gather earlier in the evening on Monday

The Mark O Hatfield Federal Courthouse in the city centre has become a nightly battleground.

Protesters have attempted to breach the fence that surrounds the building by climbing the structure or even using power tools, according to the Associated Press news agency.

A number of officers have been injured in the clashes as protesters have fired commercial grade fireworks over the barrier, pointed laser beams in the eyes of agents posted as lookouts, and hurled rocks and other projectiles over the fence.

Federal officers have responded with tear gas and less-lethal munitions that have injured several demonstrators.

More about the Portland protests

Media caption,

Portland protests: Calls for federal troops to leave US city