PORTLAND, OR – JULY 21:A federal officer tells the crowd to move while dispersing a protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. State and city elected officials have called for the federal officers to leave Portland as clashes between protesters and federal police continue to escalate. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
By John A. Tures
Over the past few weeks, Republicans have joined Democrats in expressing alarm at what is going on in Portland, Ore. as federal agents appear to be using use sweeping law enforcement power to detail suspects in unmarked rental vans. Videos have even emerged of a Navy veteran being beaten, and the city’s mayor himself being teargassed by these same groups while talking with protesters. Another protester with a bullhorn was hit with a projectile earlier this month.
The whole incident began with the George Floyd protests, and spread to unsuccessful attempts to create an “autonomous zone” based on what Seattle briefly had. Vox reported that the crowds had mostly begun to dwindle down to small numbers, but now that the federal agents are there, the protests have returned and have grown, as they oppose this new highly unusual presence.
“This is the stuff of fascist regimes, not American democracy,” U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told Vox. “It’s important that we don’t have secret police in America,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., added in the Vox story.
But Republicans are also outraged at the practice as well. “We cannot give up liberty for security,” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tweeted, according to The Hill. “Local law enforcement can and should be handling these situations in our cities but there is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding up people at will.”
“It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to an uninvited, unilateral intervention into one of my cities,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, said, according to a Penn Capital-Star article by John L. Micek. Ridge is also served as the nation’s first Homeland Security secretary.
“The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism. It was not established to be the president’s personal militia,” Ridge said in an interview with Sirius XM host Michael Smerconish.
Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection defended his officers, saying “I think not only is it a common practice among law enforcement, but also in these circumstances, it makes sense to use an unmarked vehicle,” according to the New York Post.
He claimed his federal agents wear “POLICE” on patches on the front and back of their vests, but don’t wear name tags because of doxing, though police officers in America have badge numbers and name tags.
The Portland mayor, Oregon governor, and nearly all of Oregon’s congressional delegation have asked the federal agents to leave, arguing that they are galvanizing the protesters.
Their efforts have begun to pay off, as the inspector general for the Justice Department launched an investigation in the tactics of these agents, in both Portland and earlier this summer in Washington D.C.
This follows on the heels of the Oregon Attorney General’s lawsuit against DHS over their tactics. And an Oregon judge just issued a temporary restraining order against federal agents which restricts “arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force” against journalists and legal observers.
Similar federal agents are about to be sent out to cities all across America.
Before any of that gets done, we need the Inspector General’s findings to be made public, and he should not be fired like so many other government watchdogs have been in the last few years. We need to ensure that we don’t have some government agency that may not be playing by the rules.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected]. and follow him on Twitter at @JohnTures2.
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