Three Democratic House committee chairs have called on government watchdogs to probe the recent use of federal force in response to protest violence.
In a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and Homeland Security Department Inspector General Joseph Cuffari on July 19 (pdf), the chairs urged immediate investigations into the Trump administration’s use of federal law enforcement officers in several cities amid protests that were sparked by the police-custody death of George Floyd, saying some of them have devolved into civil unrest that threatens the safety and livelihoods of residents.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appear to have increasingly abused emergency authorities to justify the use of force against Americans exercising their right to peaceful assembly,” wrote House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
“Reports from Oregon this week make clear that this misuse of resources and personnel remains a growing threat,” they stated in the letter. “Accordingly, we write to request an investigation by your offices 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.”
Meanwhile, Portland’s police chief and black leaders denounced the recent violence and vandalism directed against the police precinct and area businesses by rioters on July 17, with Chief Chuck Lovell calling the actions, “not only reprehensible, but they’re evil.” Black leaders in the community criticized those responsible for acts such as damaging black-owned businesses, decrying the activity as the work of “delinquents” and “terrorists.”
Over the weekend, rioters broke into a Portland Police Association building and set it on fire, according to the Portland Police Bureau.
“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 July 19.
President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on July 19 that he is seeking to help Portland after months of protests and riots by sending in federal law enforcement.
“We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” the president wrote. “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!”
The lawmakers wrote in their letter that investigating the use of federal force to quell protest violence “is a matter of utmost urgency.”
“Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country. Therefore, we ask that you commence your review of these issues immediately,” they wrote.
The use of federal officers to respond to protest-related violence also has triggered a backlash from Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, called on the Trump administration to pull back on federal response units, claiming that those actions are adding fuel to the unrest.
“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Wheeler said July 17.
In a lawsuit against the federal government, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum requested that the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Protection Service stop making arrests in the city.
“These tactics must stop,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “They not only make it impossible for people to assert their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully, they also create a more volatile situation on our streets.”
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.