U.S., Oregon agree to phase out federal agents from Portland

  • World
  • Thursday, 30 Jul 2020

Federal law enforcement officers close a street downtown as they move towards protesters during a demonstration against police violence and racial inequality in Portland, Oregon, U.S., July 29, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

(Reuters) - Oregon's governor on Wednesday said federal tactical police had agreed to withdraw from Portland, though U.S. officials said agents would stay until conditions improved after weeks of clashes with protesters.

Governor Kate Brown said Vice President Mike Pence agreed to a "phased" end to the deployment that has sparked a standoff between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic mayors over the use of federal police in their cities.

Under the plan, all Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents protecting a federal courthouse will start to leave downtown Portland on Thursday, Brown said in a statement. The head of U.S. Homeland Security said agents would stay near the courthouse until they were sure the plan was working.

During the federal presence in Portland, one protester was nearly killed by a rubber bullet, two officers were likely blinded permanently by protesters using lasers, and activists were snatched off the street and whisked away by agents in minivans.

"They have acted as an occupying force & brought violence," Brown, a Democrat who has clashed with Trump, wrote on Twitter.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, who oversees CBP and ICE, said Oregon State Police would secure a perimeter outside the courthouse and be positioned inside the courthouse grounds with regular federal police.

On a call with reporters, Wolf declined to provide a timeline for tactical agents to leave the city, saying they would remain in Portland on standby to defend the courthouse if Oregon State Police were overwhelmed.

The deal came after suburban mothers, veterans and healthcare workers joined anti-racism demonstrations to oppose the federal intervention. The arrival of these so-called white allies changed the optics of Black Lives Matter protests previously dominated by black-clad activists facing off against police in camoflage.

"The more the feds are out there, the more attention that's going to grab, and obviously Trump didn't think this through when he did this," said Najee Gow, 22, a Black protest leader.

Separately, the government announced a deployment of federal agents to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit to curtail a surge of violent crime. Some mayors said they were willing to accept the help, while others expressed worries that the Republican president's motives might be election-year politics.

Trump, seeking re-election in November, has sought to crack down on protests to highlight his focus on law and order amid demonstrations and unrest after the May 25 killing of a Black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police.

The federal government presence in Portland drew criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups who alleged excessive force and federal overreach by Trump.

Solidarity protests spread over the weekend to other U.S. cities, prompting complaints by Democratic mayors that federal deployments were escalating tensions across the country.

Separately, the Justice Department said it would send dozens of law enforcement officials to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit, following similar deployments to Chicago, Kansas City, Missouri; and Albuquerque, New Mexico earlier this month.

Distinct from the operation in Portland to secure the federal courthouse, these initiatives are being made under what is known as Operation Legend, a plan launched to address spikes in violent crimes like murders, which have risen by nearly 31 percent in Detroit from 2019.

Matthew Schneider, the chief federal prosecutor in the part of Michigan that includes Detroit, told a briefing on Wednesday that there would be "no federal troops" deployed to his state to interfere with peaceful protests.

"Operation Legend isn't about protests or politics," Schneider said.

The operation's expansion includes sending 42 federal agents to Detroit and more than 25 to both Milwaukee and Cleveland. The agents will come from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Alexandra Alper, Ted Hesson, Gabriella Borter and Nathan Layne, Deborah Bloom and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Alistair Bell and David Gregorio)

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