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Law and Justice

Trump Administration Pushes Portland Mayor To Take Help From Federal Law Enforcement

Portland protests federal officers - JL-OPB.jpg
Jonathan Levinson
Federal law enforcement officers fire impact munitions and tear gas at protesters demonstrating against racism and police violence in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 16, 2020.

Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf was firing back to an open letter Ted Wheeler sent to the Trump Administration Friday.

In an ongoing war of words between the Trump Administration and Portland’s mayor, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security once again threatened federal intervention if the city leader did not quell the nightly protests entering their fourth month.

In an open letter, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf fired back to Wheeler’s own open letter submitted to President Donald Trump on Friday, which had called for federal law enforcement to stay far away from Portland. Wolf wrote that he had been asked to respond on Trump’s behalf.

“You state in your letter that ‘[t]here is no place for looting, arson, or vandalism in our city,’” Wolf’s letter read. “Unfortunately, you have failed to back up that sentiment with any action. In fact, your inaction has fostered an environment that has fueled senseless violence and destruction night after night.”

This summer, the Trump administration has routinely bashed local leaders for failing to calm Portland’s protests, and painted the city as a hellscape as a result. Monday’s letter was no exception.

“Due to a lack of action throughout the summer, Portland and its law-abiding residents continue to suffer from large-scale looting, arson, and vandalism—even killing,” the letter continued. “Businesses remain shuttered and Portlanders are held hostage by the daily violence that has gripped the city with no end in sight.”

The city has been home to many small fires and instances of vandalism over the summer, but there has not been large-scale looting since the first day of mass protests back in May.

Wolf accused Wheeler of being passive in the face of the nightly protests, pointing to a quote the mayor gave in an interview with OPB last month where he said the nightly violence “will ultimately burn itself out.” He urged Wheeler to request federal law enforcement to provide support, adding that if local officials “fail to protect its citizens from violence,” the Trump administration “will have no choice.”

When federal law enforcement regularly policed protests in Portland during July, they were widely seen as escalating the violence in the city and giving the protests new momentum.

Wolf’s letter comes a day after three neighboring law enforcement agencies declined Gov. Kate Brown’s invitation to assist Portland police with ongoing demonstrations. The plan had asked for more law enforcement to “bring violence and arson to an end” in the city. But all three agencies had said no, citing, in part, a policy by the new Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt. Schmidt has said he will not prosecute low-level arrests made at Portland protests.

Wolf also pointed to Schmidt’s policy in his letter, saying he wanted to see the mayor persuade the district attorney to prosecute more crimes, such as rioting and a city ordinance violation. The District Attorney’s office has underscored they will continue to prosecute instances of arson and physical violence.

Despite Schmidt saying he won’t prosecute low-level offenses, the Portland Police have continued to make a significant number of arrests in the last few weeks. On Monday evening, after a night of protest that saw a small fire set in the lobby of the mayor’s Pearl District condo, police declared a riot and made 19 arrests.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting