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House leaders ‘alarmed’ federal officers policing protests

Associated Press

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Police respond to protesters during a demonstration, Friday, July 17, 2020 in Portland, Ore. Militarized federal agents deployed by the president to Portland, fired tear gas against protesters again overnight as the city’s mayor demanded that the agents be removed and as the state’s attorney general vowed to seek a restraining order against them. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Top leaders in the U.S. House said Sunday they were “alarmed” by the Trump administration’s tactics against protesters in Portland, Oregon, and other cities, including Washington, D.C., and called on federal inspectors general investigate.

The mayor of Oregon’s largest city said Sunday the presence of federal agents is exacerbating tensions in Portland, which has seen nearly two months of nightly protests since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Speaking on CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said federal officers “are not wanted here. We haven’t asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.”

Late Saturday, protesters broke into a building, set it on fire and started dumpster fires, police said.

The fire at the Portland Police Association building was put out a short time later, Portland police said on Twitter. The department declared the gathering a riot, and began working to clear the area in North Portland.

“As the crowd was dispersed, several people in the crowd were arrested and officers were able to extinguish the fire. Portland Police did not use any CS gas,” the bureau said in a statement early Sunday.

“This is a matter of utmost urgency,” wrote House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi, and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, in a letter to the inspectors general of Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

Democratic lawmakers are seeking an investigation “into the use of federal law enforcement agencies by the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to suppress First Amendment protected activities in Washington, D.C., Portland, and other communities across the United States.”

Police said protesters had first gathered at the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct, vandalizing patrol vehicles and taunting officers as they reported for work. Police dispersed the group, which then went to the Portland Police Association building.

Tear gas was deployed against another group of demonstrators near the federal courthouse in downtown Portland on Saturday night, the Oregonian/Oregon Live reported. Fencing that had been placed around the courthouse had also been removed by protesters and made into barricades, police tweeted.

Before the aggressive language and action from federal officials, the unrest had frustrated Wheeler and other local authorities, who had said a small cadre of violent activists were drowning out the message of peaceful protesters in the city. But Wheeler said the federal presence in the city is now exacerbating a tense situation.

“What we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, Wheeler said Sunday.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued Homeland Security and the Marshals Service in federal court late Friday. The complaint said unidentified federal agents have grabbed people off Portland’s streets “without warning or explanation, without a warrant, and without providing any way to determine who is directing this action.”

Rosenblum said she was seeking a temporary restraining order to “immediately stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.”

However, federal officers and Portland police advanced simultaneously on demonstrators to clear the streets early Saturday, making arrests as protesters threw bottles and pieces of metal fencing.

The action by Portland’s police was condemned by Jo Ann Hardesty, a prominent member of the City Council. Hardesty said Saturday that local police “joined in the aggressive clampdown of peaceful protest.”

Hardesty also slammed Wheeler, telling the mayor he needed to better control local law enforcement. Hardesty, who oversees the city’s fire department and other first-responder agencies, said in an open letter to Wheeler if “you can’t control the police, give me the Portland Police Bureau.”

In a statement Saturday, Portland Police said as they responded to the overnight protests some federal agencies took action “under their own supervision and direction.” Portland Police said city officers arrested seven people, and one officer sustained a minor injury.

President Donald Trump has decried the demonstrations, and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf blasted the protesters as “lawless anarchists” in a visit to the city on Thursday.

“We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!”

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