US charges 18 Portland protesters with arson, trespassing as it sends tactical police to Seattle

The arrests came this week during clashes with specially equipped federal police agents sent to Portland, where 56 straight days of anti-racism demonstrations have captured national attention

Reuters July 26, 2020 01:30:00 IST
US charges 18 Portland protesters with arson, trespassing as it sends tactical police to Seattle

US prosecutors on Friday unveiled charges against 18 Portland, Oregon protesters ranging from assaulting police to arson and trespassing, a day after the Trump administration expanded the deployment of tactical police to Seattle.

The arrests came this week during clashes with specially equipped federal police agents sent to Portland, where 56 straight days of antiracism demonstrations have captured national attention.

The federal forces have drawn criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups who allege excessive force and federal overreach by President Donald Trump.

The deployment of federal officers has also drawn the scrutiny of the Justice Department inspector general, who announced an investigation of their use of force, and prompted a federal judge to issue a temporary order limiting their use of force and blocking them from arresting journalists and legal observers of street protests.

The Trump administration sent a tactical team to Seattle on Thursday in anticipation of protests this weekend despite the objections of the Seattle mayor and Washington state governor, who warned of a Portland-like escalation of tensions.

US Attorney for the Western District of Washington Brian Moran said in a statement that federal agents are stationed in Seattle to protect federal properties and the work done in those buildings.

"Let's not let the violence that has marred the Portland protests damage peaceful movements here for a more just society," Moran said. "My hope is our community will speak with one voice to discourage those who seek to hijack peaceful protests with damage and destruction."

The Trump administration has also sent federal police to Chicago, Kansas City and Albuquerque over the objections of those mayors.

Trump, who is running for re-election on 3 November in part on a campaign of law and order, has threatened to deploy federal forces in more cities run by Democratic mayors, who he accuses of being soft on crime.

The Portland team of tactically equipped, camouflaged officers fired tear gas canisters at Black Lives Matter demonstrators in central Portland early on Friday, taking on a policing role typically reserved for local law enforcement.

"I made clear to Acting Secretary (Chad) Wolf that deployments in Seattle - like we have seen in Portland - would undermine public safety and break community trust," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said on Twitter late on Thursday, referring to the acting secretary of Homeland Security.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee warned that federal officers might "make the thing worse and throw gasoline on a fire".

Portland has been rocked by nearly two months of demonstrations for racial equality and against police brutality, part of a movement that has swept the United States since the 25 May death of George Floyd, an African American, in the custody of Minneapolis police.

The Justice Department said all 18 of those charged in Portland had made a first appearance in federal court and were released pending trial or other proceedings.

Five people were charged with suspicion of assaulting a federal officer, trespassing and creating a disturbance during protests on the night of 20-21 July, said Billy Williams, the US Attorney for the District of Oregon.

Seven people have been charged in connection with criminal conduct during a 21-22 July night protest, including one person charged with arson. Another six were charged over events from the night of 22-23 July.

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