“Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14,” reports Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.”
The report continues: “The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to ‘quell’ nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks.”
Of course, authorities — and we’ll get to the matter of what authorities in a bit — have the power to prevent violence. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening in Portland, where nightly protests have been taking place since early June. Law enforcement agents aren’t targeting protesters who engaged in violence; they appear to be sweeping up random people who have exercised their rights under the First Amendment.
Like Mark Pettibone, 29, who was heading home in the early hours of Wednesday morning when, according to The Post’s Katie Shepherd, “several men in green military fatigues and generic ‘police’ patches sprang out of an unmarked gray minivan.” Pettibone was detained, searched, driven to the federal courthouse, placed in a holding cell and read his Miranda rights against self-incrimination. He declined to waive them. And then, about 90 minutes later, he was released.
“I just happened to be wearing black on a sidewalk in downtown Portland at the time,” Pettibone told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “And that apparently is grounds for detaining me.”
This is not America.
As much as I revile what President Trump is doing to the country, I have not been among the alarmists who warn of incipient authoritarianism, of festering fascism. I believe — I have believed, anyway — in the rule of law; the steadfastness of the courts, even larded with Trump-appointed judges; the strong tradition of the U.S. military refraining from being used to serve partisan interests. But to have watched live as federal agents attacked peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square, and now to read the reports from Portland, is to worry: Perhaps that was over-optimistic.
This is not America because of the First Amendment, quoted above. It is not America because we are a federal system, something you would think Republicans, who supposedly believe in states’ rights, understand and respect. So we are a country in which governors can summon federal help, are authorized to call out the National Guard — not a country in which unbadged federal police are loosed upon innocent citizens of a state over the objections of its governor. In this case, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, joined by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who have beseeched the feds to leave.
Yes, President Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed federal troops to Arkansas. That was to protect black students attempting to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, and to enforce a federal court order. It was to protect the students’ constitutional rights, not undermine them.
“This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland” is “a blatant abuse of power by the federal government,” she said, adding that Chad Wolf, acting secretary of homeland security, who visited the city on Thursday, “is on a mission to provoke confrontation for political purposes. He is putting both Oregonians and local law enforcement officers in harm’s way.”
Wolf, for his part, said Portland “has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city. Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.”
But Wolf’s list of terrible depredations allegedly committed by the Portland protesters was less than convincing — and, in any event, in no way justified the kind of random, unprovoked arrests that have been described. The tally from July 15:
- Violent anarchists doxed members of federal law enforcement.
- Violent anarchists attempted to damage the Hatfield Courthouse by throwing objects at it and spray painting it. Numerous fireworks were also lit.
- Violent anarchists trespassed on federal property and destroyed a card reader at the Justice Center.
There is a difference between solving a legitimate problem (the destruction of public property) and picking a political fight. Trump, understandably terrified of losing reelection, appears intent on doing the latter. “A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice — to attack it is to attack America,” Wolf thundered in his statement.
But there is a more important symbol of justice than a brick-and-mortar building.
It is called the Constitution. To ignore it is to attack America.
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