The United States has deployed federal soldiers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Customs and Border Border Patrol Tactical Unit to Portland, Oregon. The move comes against the wishes of local and state officials, and federal personnel have been caught on camera using unmarked cars to abduct citizens, dispersing protesters with tear gas unrelated to federal property, and has deployed snipers equipped with live ammunition. On July 11th, federal agents shot a man in the face with “less-than-lethal” ammunition, fracturing his skull.
According to the homeland security organizational chart, the force is possibly made up of Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard, Federal Protective Service, US Marshals, and Customs and Border Patrol. It is unknown with what jurisdictional authority they are operating. Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as well as Represenatives Blumenauer and Bonamici have called for an immediate investigation into the “unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland.”
The response by local city and state officials in Oregon has been unanimous:
“The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are engaged in acts that are horrific and outrageoushorrific and outrageous in our constitutional democratic republic. First, they are deploying paramilitary forces with no identification indicating who they are or who they work for. Second, these agents are snatching people off the street with no underlying justification. Both of these acts are profound offenses against Americans.”– Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley
“Oregonians’ demand for answers about this occupying army and its paramilitary assaults in Portland at the direction of Donald Trump and Chad Wolf cannot be stonewalled. That’s not how it works in a democracy.”Oregon Senator Ron Wyden
“We are demanding an immediate Inspector General investigation into these incidents to get answers from the Trump administration and ensure these disturbing abuses of power stop immediately.”Representative Earl Blumenauer
“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety. The president is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government,”.Oregon Governor Kate Brown
On a local level, city commissioners and the mayor agreed.
“[Law enforcement’s] presence here has escalated tensions and put countless Portlanders exercising their First Amendment rights in greater danger.”Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty
“We do not need or want their help. The best thing they can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether.”Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler
At least twice since July 11th, federal personnel used tear gas and other munitions to break up protesters. A report by Oregon Public Broadcasting found that federal officers, who were deployed to protect the federal courthouse within Portland are also “detaining people on Portland streets who aren’t near federal property, nor is it clear that all of the people being arrested have engaged in criminal activity”.
As the Portland protesters entered their 49th consecutive day, Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) declared “Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping — what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the U.S. These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”
By definition, the force is being treated as an occupying force, there without the express consent of local governing bodies.
Military Occupation: “the action, state, or period of occupying or being occupied by military force.”
Martial Law: “the law applied in occupied territory by the military authority of the occupying power”
The move comes after the US government declared they would “quell” the nightly protests happening outside of the federal courthouse and Multnomah Justice Center. Federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests so far, and others have been detained, arrested and released. Videos from July 15th show unidentified soldiers in camouflage uniforms charging protesters, detaining them without reading them their rights, and using rental minivans to remove them a unknown location.
In the video, the person recording asks the question, “How are we supposed to know who you are? How are we supposed to know you’re not kidnapping us?” Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old Portland resident recounted his experience: “I am basically tossed into the van and I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.” The agents went through his belongings, read him his miranda rights, but refused to say why he was being detained and did not bring a lawyer to be present even though requested.
Constitutional experts question whether the detentions are legal. In an interview with the Washington Post, UC Berkely law professor Orin Kerr argued that “arrests require probable cause that a federal crime had been committed, that is, specific information indicating that the person likely committed a federal offense, or a fair probability that the person committed a federal offense… If the agents are grabbing people because they may have been involved in protests, that’s not probable cause.”
United States attorney Billy Williams said that “based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protestors without probable cause, I have requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General to open an investigation directed specifically at the actions of DHS personnel… as US Attorney, I will continue to work in concert with local and federal law enforcement and city and community leaders to bring about an end to this violence.”
The statement by the US attorney stood in stark contrast to that of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan who on Thursday said that DHS and U.S. Department of Justice would be ramping up their federal response in Oregon. “I don’t want to get ahead of the president and his announcement,” Morgan said, “but the Department of Justice is going to be involved in this, DHS is going to be involved in this; and we’re really going to take a stand across the board”.
The same day Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security arrived in Portland and confirmed the escalation of force despite the wishes of local leaders. “ Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement and requesting fewer officers in their community…. this siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law. DHS will not abdicate its solemn duty to protect federal facilities and those within them” said Wolf.
In a statement Friday, CBP acknowledged it had carried out at least one of the arrests in question, and that officers kept names and identifiable information secret. Video of that arrest posted online does not show anyone trying to interfere with officers, but many people can be heard asking the officers for their names and who they work for.
About the Photographer
Kody Whiteaker is a seattle-based father and freelance photo journalist and photographer. He is a Black Lives Matter advocate and has been covering recent events in Seattle and Portland. Find more of his work and give a follow at: https://twitter.com/kody_whiteaker. Reach out directly for more information or photo requests.