Legal experts: Trump’s use of federal DHS officers in Portland is ‘bad and ineffective law enforcement’

Legal experts: Trump’s use of federal DHS officers in Portland is ‘bad and ineffective law enforcement’
MSNBC

President Donald Trump and Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, have been drawing a great deal of criticism for the way in which federal law enforcement officers have been conducting themselves during George Floyd protests in Portland, Oregon — where men in military-like camouflage have been emerging from unmarked vehicles and detaining protesters. Legal experts Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic, in a July 21 article for The Atlantic, analyze Trump’s use of federal law enforcement in Portland and explain why it is wildly inappropriate.


“Whether the Trump Administration has the technical legal authority to deploy this show of force in this particular matter does not answer the question of whether it should do so,” Wittes and Jurecic argue. “The use of federal officers in this manner is corrosive of democratic culture, it makes for bad and ineffective law enforcement, and it’s likely physically dangerous both for the law enforcement officers and for the protesters in question.”

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has denounced the officers as “Trump’s secret police,” and other critics of the president have said that the images coming out of Portland recall Italy under Benito Mussolini or Chile under Gen. Augusto Pinochet.” Gov. Kate Brown, also a Democrat, told PBS that “Trump’s troops” were “pouring gasoline on a fire.”

Wittes and Jurecic write that although DHS is authorized to protect federal property — including the federal courthouse in Portland — DHS has been overreaching in Oregon’s largest city.

According to Wittes and Jurecic, “The existence of the department’s authority to protect federal property is uncontroversial. The federal government has the power to defend federal buildings and facilities from civil unrest, and a variety of federal laws protect federal property from attack and vandalism and federal officials from interference with their discharge of the government’s business. While this authority certainly extends to the power to investigate federal crimes and arrest those suspected of them, it is not some general authority to patrol the downtowns of major cities and pick up and detain protesters merely because a federal building may be in the neighborhood.”

The legal experts note that the “tactical divisions of the Homeland Security Department from which the officers in Portland appear to hail — Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — are not typically deployed at protests, but charged with enforcing immigration law and guarding the U.S. border…. Sending out officers untrained for demonstrations risks violence if the agents end up in situations they don’t know how to handle.”

Wittes and Jurecic conclude their article by saying that if Trump’s desire is to discourage the protesters in Portland, it “doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Last night in Portland, as happened last month in Washington, D.C., peaceful protests only grew in response to the federal show of force,” Wittes and Jurecic write. “If Trump follows through on his promise to export the federal muscle to other cities, the anonymous agents may be met with more large crowds defying Trump’s efforts at vilification and coercion.”

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