Unidentified federal law enforcement agents in Portland, Oregon, have detained protesters,
whisking them away in unmarked cars. This shocking practice is evocative of repressive methods
used by authoritarian governments.
Over the objections of local elected officials, the Trump administration recently deployed a variety
of federal agents to Portland, including U.S. Marshals and Customs and Border Protection officers,
purportedly to protect federal buildings during demonstrations. However, detentions have
reportedly occurred elsewhere. It is not immediately clear which federal agency is responsible.
Since the arrival of federal agents, local officials have complained that they are using excessive
force against protesters. On July 6, a U.S. Marshal shot a protester in the head with an “impact
munition” fracturing his skull and leaving him critically injured. U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) has condemned the federal deployment, saying, “These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”
Federal officials have rejected the calls for de-escalation. On July 16, Acting Secretary of Homeland
Security Chad Wolf criticized local officials for failing to curb “lawless anarchists.” “This failed
response has only emboldened the violent mob,” he said.
Since the murder of George Floyd by police, Americans across the nation have taken to the streets to
exercise their First Amendment rights. Many times these peaceful protests against police violence
have been met with more violence, including by the Portland Police Department.The continued
deployment of federal forces in Portland, against the wishes of local elected officials, is the latest
example of the Trump administration’s policy of demonizing the protesters and peddling conspiracy
theories about outside agitators.
Reports that PPD may be formally or informally coordinating or sharing information with federal
agencies raise additional concerns.
Everyone has the right to protest freely and to speak out for a better world. Individuals do not
forfeit this right, even when others engage in vandalism or similar unlawful acts. Officers are only
legally authorized to arrest a person based on individualized probable cause that the individual has
committed a crime.
The use of unidentified militarized federal forces against the wishes of local officials, the exercise of
excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and the seemingly arbitrary detention of some of
them without a clear reason for arrest are designed to intimidate protesters into surrendering their
First Amendment rights.
We condemn these practices. We call for all unwanted federal forces to be removed from Portland
and urge Congress to investigate the pattern and practice of abuses against protesters.
(The American Friends Service Committee was one of several organizations to sign on to this statement. Click link for more.)