Over the course of the past 53 days of continuous protests in Portland, Oregon, the city has fallen into a state of unrest the likes of which has rarely been seen in U.S. history. These protests first erupted in the wake of the George Floyd killing, along with the similar wave of demonstrations that occurred throughout the U.S. and the international community. Yet, while other protests have seemed to quell in recent weeks, the ones in Portland have only intensified after President Trump deployed federal forces to the city two weeks ago. These federal officers have resorted to increasingly violent tactics to crack down on the protests—including tear gassing, assaulting, and even forcibly abducting protesters.
In a video that was widely circulated across the internet, two federal officers were seen snatching a protestor directly off the street to be detained in an unmarked van. On July 17th, U.S. Customs and Border Protection admitted responsibility for this, as they claimed that “the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property” and that they needed to take “the suspect to a safer location” to be detained and questioned.
Additionally, another incident surfaced in which one Portland demonstrator, Mark Pettibone, claimed he was “tossed into a van” by federal agents and held with his “beanie pulled over [his] face so [he] couldn’t see.” Pettibone’s friend Conner O’Shea ran away from the scene after he saw multiple officers in camouflage military garb exit an unmarked van. He then went to go hide, until he was once again followed by another unmarked vehicle. Both of these individuals claimed that they weren’t doing anything wrong, and presumed they were targeted simply for wearing all-black clothing in the vicinity of the demonstrations. After these claims were published by Oregon Public Broadcasting, the U.S. Marshall Service released a statement denying any involvement in these detainments at all.
The methods used by federal agents to disperse demonstrations have also faced widespread condemnation by the city’s residents. They have repeatedly tear gassed the nightly protests that occur in the city, and have pepper sprayed and shot “less-than-lethal” munitions such as rubber bullets at peaceful protestors. One unarmed protestor was shot in the head with these rubber bullets, causing him to fall unconscious from profuse bleeding and severe skull and facial fractures.
In total, federal agents have released formal charges against 13 protestors, while others have been detained without ever being charged. Because of this, Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler has criticized the federal agents for unconstitutionally denying due process to those who have been in custody.
Mayor Wheeler, both of Oregon’s Senators, and two of their representatives in the House have all called for federal investigations into the current situation in the city. One of Oregon’s Senators, Ron Wyden (D), has even likened the crackdown to a “paramilitary assault” conducted by an “occupying army.”
Meanwhile, Trump administration official Chad Wolf, the acting Director of Homeland Security, has refused these requests from the city and state governments for the military to evacuate—claiming that “that’s just not going to happen on [his] watch.” According to the Department of Homeland Security website, the protestors’ acts that originally prompted the recent DHS response include the graffitiing of public buildings, damaging of city fences, and “throwing of animal seed at officers.” Wolf has repeatedly characterized these protestors as “violent anarchists,” and has asserted that the situation can only be handled by the hands of the federal government.
President Trump has echoed this rhetoric, claiming that federal agents “have done a great job” in quelling the protests that he believes the local police is entirely unable to manage.
Yet, Mayor Wheeler continues to deny Trump’s claim that the protests have been “quelled” at all, and argues that the federal military presence has actually been “leading to more violence and more vandalism.” With this divide between the federal and local governments only growing in scope, it seems as if tensions will continue to be heightened in the city for some time to come.
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