The New York Times reports that federal agents outfitted in tactical gear and camouflage are detaining protestors, using tear gas on crowds, and using violent means to quell demonstrations in Portland, Oregon. Governor Kate Brown called the situation "a blatant abuse of power."
The NYT spoke with Mark Pettibone, who was detained. He explained that he was detained on Wednesday night by four men that came out of an unmarked vehicle. They had no identification or distinguishable markings.
"One of the officers said, 'It's OK, it's OK,' and just grabbed me and threw me into the van. Another officer pulled my beanie down, so I couldn't see," Pettibone said.
He was held for two hours, was never told why he was being detained or who the officers were. Reports also include the unidentified federal officers have shooting a protestor in the head with an "impact munition." People chanted, "Who do you protect? Who do you serve?"
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also acts as police commissioner, said that the federal response to the protests — which have been going on for 50 days — was "irresponsible." He also asked for any of those deployed to "stay inside federal buildings or leave the city." Mike Reese, Multnomah County sheriff, said that the response is a "significant setback."
Oregon politicos aren't the only ones questioning the situation. Representatives and officials from across the country are demanding more information.
This is right out of the authoritarian playbook. Americans have rights and they cannot be disregarded by unidentified uniformed agents. We need answers. Now.https://t.co/JlADJ2JwlI
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 17, 2020
This behavior from unidentified federal officers is chilling. Without identification, there can be no accountability when something goes wrong, and there is no way for citizens to tell the difference between real and fake law enforcement. https://t.co/mzK4VmtvzN
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 17, 2020
I thought we’d already covered this after the attacks in Lafayette Square: the US government should not be using unidentified federal officers as a secret police force to terrorize US citizens & violate their constitutional rights. This is outrageous. https://t.co/EIXbZmHXak
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) July 17, 2020
Who are these people? What agency do they work for? Who gives them orders? What are their use of force guidelines? What is their jurisdiction in Portland?
This lack of accountability is UNACCEPTABLE from federal authorities.
We don't have secret police in the United States. https://t.co/gHMJadt7BH
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) July 17, 2020
Paramilitary assaults at the direction of Donald Trump and Chad Wolf are nothing more than a catalyst for violence. This administration has no real interest in protecting Americans. Our country needs lasting, peaceful solutions that bubble up from the community.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) July 17, 2020
Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, told Rolling Stone that the situation in Portland could set precedent for the future of peaceful protests nationwide.
"What is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the United States," he said. "Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping. The actions of the militarized federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered."
Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf arrived in Portland on Thursday. According to The Oregonian, he called the protesters a "violent mob" of anarchists and said that the local law enforcement efforts were insufficient. Last week, President Trump said that he sent Homeland Security to the city because "the locals couldn't handle it."
Mayor Wheeler has made steps to change and urged protestors to avoid clashing with police. NYT notes that the city's police chief resigned and will be replaced with Chuck Lovell. City commissioners have also moved to cut $16 million from the police budget.
"Black leaders in the community have also expressed disappointment," the Times writes, "suggesting that the predominantly white protest crowd was seizing an opportunity and detracting from the vital efforts needed to reform policing."
Unfortunately, activist groups fear that this is just a test for what could come in other cities where protests are happening. Zakir Khan, a spokesman for the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Washington Post, "I think Portland is test case. They want to see what they can get away with before launching into other parts of the country."
This story is developing and this post may be updated.