Oregon's attorney general is seeking an order to prevent federal agents from arresting people in Portland, as the city continues to be shaken by nightly protests that have been going on for seven weeks and are now turning local officials against the Trump administration.
Federal agents, some in camouflage and some in dark homeland security uniforms, used tear gas at least twice to break up the crowd late Friday night, The Oregonian / OregonLive reported.
Demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality have taken place every day in Oregon's largest city since the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25. President Donald Trump condemned the disruption, and homeland security minister Chad Wolf beat the demonstrators to the city as "lawless anarchists" during a visit.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and other local authorities had become frustrated with the aggressive language and actions of federal officials, saying that a small squad of violent activists drowned out the message from peaceful demonstrators in the city. But Wheeler said the federal presence in the city is now exacerbating a tense situation and he told them to leave.
"Keep your troops in your own buildings or let them leave our city," said Wheeler on Friday.
The Attorney General of Oregon, Ellen Rosenblum, sued the homeland security agency and marshal service before a federal court late Friday. The complaint states that unidentified federal agents grabbed people off Portland's streets "without warning or explanation, without an arrest warrant, and without any way of determining who led the action."
Rosenblum said she was seeking an injunction to "immediately stop the federal authorities from illegally arresting Oregonians."
"The current escalation of fear and violence in downtown Portland is being driven by federal law enforcement measures that are completely unnecessary," said Rosenblum in a statement.
The government has brought in federal agents, including the U.S. Marshal Special Operations Group and an elite team for U.S. customs and border guards on the U.S.-Mexico border, to protect the federal good.
But Oregon Public Broadcasting reported this week that some agents had been driving around in unmarked vans and kidnapping demonstrators from streets that were not near the federal property without identification.
Tensions also escalated after a marshal official fired a less lethal round at a demonstrator's head on July 11 and seriously injured him.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and US Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon made a joint statement Saturday denouncing the Trump administration's actions.
“We live in a democracy, not in a banana republic. We will not tolerate the use of Oregonians, Washingtonians – or other Americans – as props in President Trump's political games. The house is determined to act quickly to curb this immense abuse of power immediately, ”they said.
On Friday evening, hundreds of people gathered for a vigil outside the downtown justice center, which is located between two federal buildings, including a courthouse, The Oregonian / OregonLive reported. Across the street, dozens of other demonstrators entered two recently closed city parks after removing chain-link fences that blocked access.
Federal agents came from an office building next door and used impact ammunition, stun grenades and tear gas to clear the area, the news organization reported. The journalists had not observed an incident that could have prompted the use of the weapons.
Shortly before midnight, the federal officials used tear gas again after some demonstrators set up dismantled fences in front of plywood doors in front of the Federal Court entrance.
Earlier Saturday, Portland police ruled the assembly illegal, saying that demonstrators piled fences outside the exits of the Federal Court and Multnomah County Justice Center and then fireworked at the justice center.
Officials and local police then went to the demonstrators to clear the streets at the same time and made arrests when demonstrators threw bottles and metal fences at the police, the Portland Police Bureau said. Chuck Lovell, Portland police chief, told reporters Friday that his officers are in contact with the federal agents, but that neither of them controls the other's actions.
The Portland Police nightly action was condemned by a prominent member of the City Council. On Saturday, Jo Ann Hardesty said local police had "joined the aggressive crackdown on peaceful protests."
Hardesty, who said she was downtown on Friday night's protest, hit Wheeler and told the mayor that he needed better control over local law enforcement. Hardesty, who oversees the city's fire department and other first responders, said in an open letter to Wheeler that "you can't control the police, give me the Portland Police Bureau".
In a statement on Saturday, the Portland police said when they responded to the overnight protests – including those who threw projectiles – that some federal agencies had taken action "under their own supervision and direction". According to the Portland Police Department, city officials arrested seven people and one officer suffered a minor injury.
The statement said the city police are supporting peaceful protests, and as of Saturday evening, the Department of Homeland Security police will no longer work at the Portland Police Department.