Even by 2020 standards, the news was alarming. Late last week, the nation learned of federal agents in unmarked vans and camouflage detaining Portland’s protesters without explanation. Black Lives Matter-inspired demonstrations have continued for weeks in the Oregon city, but the Department of Homeland Security says its officers need to protect property, such as the federal courthouse, from “lawless anarchists.” Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum has filed a federal lawsuit against the department and others, claiming people were arrested without probable cause. And legal experts are citing authoritarianism and civil war in their attempts to grapple with what many are calling a constitutional crisis.
Just a few hours up I-5, Seattle felt this latest dose of dystopia quite acutely. In the early days of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, President Donald Trump threatened to take back our city from protesters if local officials didn’t. Now, the commander-in-chief has more than a handful of hubs run by “liberal Democrats” in his crosshairs. He didn’t name Seattle specifically, but that didn’t stop mayor Jenny Durkan from lead-authoring a letter decrying the use of federal forces in cities and demanding their immediate withdrawal.
“The unilateral deployment of these forces into American cities is unprecedented and violates fundamental constitutional protections and tenets of federalism,” the missive to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf says. “As you are well aware, President Trump threatened to deploy federal forces in Seattle to 'clear out’ a protest area and in Chicago to 'clean up' the city. Seattle and Chicago authorities objected and threatened legal action to stop such actions.”
Mayors Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., Quinton D. Lucas of Kansas City, Missouri, and Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon also signed the letter, as well as a separate one to congressional leaders that calls for an investigation into Trump and his administration. It details some of the most egregious incidents in Portland. “Federal forces have used significant force against protesters on a nightly basis, including shooting one individual in the head with a munition, reportedly fracturing his skull. Others ‘snatched’ an individual from the street without proper identification and placed him in an unmarked vehicle. These are tactics we expect from authoritarian regimes—not our democracy.”
On that, Durkan and protesters can certainly agree.