Neither side backs down as federal agents and protesters clash in Portland

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Neither side backs down as protesters and federal agents continue to periodically clash in downtown Portland following an infusion of federal resources into the area, and the Trump administration persists in seeking a political gain in the face of persistent tensions.

“We want them to get the f *** out of our town,” said Aaron, a Portland resident who withheld his full name as he stood in court, protesting the increased presence of federal forces. .

“I offered DHS support to help locally resolve the situation that’s going on in Portland, and their only response was: please pack your bags and go home,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad said. Wolf in an interview with Fox News, adding, “It’s just not gonna happen on my watch. ”

What constitutes the situation described by Wolf is not a situation mutually accepted by those on different sides of the issue. The Trump administration says it is fighting “anarchists”. But protesters here on the ground in Portland told CNN the president and his team were sweeping an entire movement – extremely peaceful, despite some periods of violence – for purely political reasons.

For more than 50 days since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, protesters have rallied in Portland to hold law enforcement to account who they say have acted with impunity.

Before the weekend of July 4, the Trump administration dispatched teams of federal agents to the city as part of an effort to protect federal monuments. The president says federal resources have been sent to protect federal assets from destruction, but protesters say it’s the sharp increase in federal forces that continues to fuel their anger.

An endless cycle

While the protests during the day have been extremely peaceful – marked by marches, unit rallies and even singing songs – nightly clashes between some protesters and federal agents resulted in repeated vandalism of the U.S. courthouse in downtown Portland and tear gas from protesters.

In an incident earlier this month at the courthouse, police said a man was arrested after assaulting a federal agent with a hammer.

Heavily armed tactical officers locked inside the federal facility will periodically appear on the streets at night without warning and respond to escalations by some protesters, such as throwing fireworks into the building or removing metal fences. erected to ward off protesters.

Dozens of moms formed a human shield to protect protesters from officers outside a federal courthouse in Portland

When federal agents exit the building, they do so in a massive show of force. Tear gas and dispersant projectiles litter the air as protesters and journalists move to safety.

While efforts by federal agents to clean up the area are momentarily successful, it stays in a never-ending cycle: protesters eventually return to the courthouse after the pungent smell of chemical gas has partially dissipated. .

Some encounters between protesters and law enforcement generated widespread controversy and allegations of excessive use of force by federal agents. Earlier this month, a protester was seriously injured after the man was shot in the head with impact munitions used to fight riots.

On Saturday night, 53-year-old Navy veteran Chris Davis was beaten by a federal agent with a baton outside the courthouse and sprayed with pepper spray at close range.

“I was going to ask why they were breaking their oath of office, the Constitution,” said Chris Davis. “All I wanted to do was ask them why.

CNN has contacted the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Marshals for comment on the incident.

Navy veteran says he was beaten and pepper sprayed by authorities as he took part in his first protest in Portland

In another viral video that sparked national outrage from activists and government officials, two federal officers in camouflage tactical uniforms approached and arrested a man, placed him inside an anonymous van and left.

After hours of refusing to respond to CNN’s requests for comment on the incident, U.S. Customs and Border Protection finally released a statement identifying the officers as belonging to that agency and indicating that the man was wanted for questioning regarding a possible crime. However, a DHS official said he was released later.

This incident was too much for Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who described the actions of CBP agents in Orwellian terms.

“Authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send anonymous authorities after protesters,” he tweeted. “These Trump / Barr tactics designed to eliminate all responsibility are absolutely unacceptable in America and must stop. ”

In part because of the viral video, Oregon’s senior prosecutor is calling on Department of Homeland Security and Justice monitoring agencies to investigate the actions of federal agents in Portland. Three powerful Democratic committee chairs in the House of Representatives are now calling for the same.

An exaggerated national threat

While some senior government officials are calling for inquiries into the federal measures, the management of the disruption on the ground in Portland continues. Protesters calling for an end to racial injustice clash with agents defended by a president who continues to use the unrest in the city as political ammunition in his attempts to present himself as tough on crime.

Although the president and senior DHS officials have portrayed Portland as a city under siege, the picture on the ground is markedly different from the picture of the chaos they are trying to project.

Federal officers clash with protesters after cleaning the streets with tear gas and other crowd control ammunition as protests continue outside the Portland Federal Courthouse on July 18.

Rather than widespread chaos, the epicenter of daytime and nighttime protests has largely been relegated to the islet housing the Federal Courthouse.

Some local journalists who have covered the protests here from the start have also observed an apparent wide brushing of law enforcement, which they say tends to cluster all protesters – including the overwhelming majority of peaceful protesters – in a group of suspected criminals.

“The way law enforcement and even public officials here have talked about these protests is really in a drastic and comprehensive way, saying that all this crowd of people are rioting or committing a crime rather than a quite a few of them, ”Portland Mercury reporter Alex Zielinski said in an interview with CNN. “So I think that’s the way the federal police work. They see anyone involved in these protests as someone committing a crime. ”

The protesters are not alone in their antipathy to the federal government. Portland local officials have repeatedly called for the disbandment of Trump’s federal cavalry so that they can respond to the protests themselves.

“What they are doing is making it much worse,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. “Their presence actually leads to more violence and vandalism and that doesn’t help the situation at all. They are not wanted here. ”

Despite reality checks from those who have seen the Portland situation up close, Trump continues to use the city’s ongoing protest movement for political ends.

Trump administration prepares to send federal agents to Chicago

And Portland isn’t the only city subject to the President’s scrutiny.

On Monday, Trump said he would also be sending federal law enforcement to other cities, “all run by very liberal Democrats,” in the latest example of his “law and order” message. However, despite the president’s attempts to portray these cities as being in a state of chaos, there is no indication that any of them experienced the degree of calamity that Trump describes to the American people.

It is unclear how the mounting tensions in Portland will be resolved. With Trump and DHS stepping up their fiery rhetoric to label protesters, and protesters angered and hardened by the caustic descriptions of their movement, no clear path to a resolution exists as protesters and rioters continue to rally outside the federal courthouse.

“It is ironic that we are being subjected to tear gas for protesting against aggressive police tactics,” said Eric, a Washington state protester who declined to give his last name for fear of being targeted by the authorities.

“We’re not leaving,” he said. “I think it says more about them than it does us when the federal government responds to our demands for justice with tear gas and smoke bombs. “

Priscilla Alvarez, Greg Clary, Conor Powell, Manu Raju, Geneva Sands, Jennifer Selva, Hollie Silverman, Konstantin Toropin and Amir Vera contributed to this report.

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