Editors Note: This statement was first published by NCAC and Defending Rights and Dissent on July 17, 2020. It was re-published on July 30, 2020 to reflect new developments and 45 additional co-signatories.
Unidentified federal law enforcement agents in Portland, Oregon, have detained protesters, whisking them away in unmarked cars. This shocking practice is evocative of repressive methods used by authoritarian governments.
Over the objections of local elected officials, the Trump administration recently deployed a variety of federal agents to Portland, including U.S. Marshals and Customs and Border Protection officers, purportedly to protect federal buildings during demonstrations. However, detentions have reportedly occurred elsewhere. It is not immediately clear which federal agency is responsible.
Since the arrival of federal agents, local officials have complained that they are using excessive force against protesters. On July 6, a U.S. Marshal shot a protester in the head with an “impact munition” fracturing his skull and leaving him critically injured. U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) has condemned the federal deployment, saying, “These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”
Federal officials have rejected the calls for de-escalation. On July 16, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf criticized local officials for failing to curb “lawless anarchists.” “This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob,” he said.
Since the murder of George Floyd by police, Americans across the nation have taken to the streets to exercise their First Amendment rights. Many times these peaceful protests against police violence have been met with more violence, including by the Portland Police Department. The continued deployment of federal forces in Portland, against the wishes of local elected officials, is the latest example of the Trump administration’s policy of demonizing the protesters and peddling conspiracy theories about outside agitators.
Reports that PPD may be formally or informally coordinating or sharing information with federal agencies raise additional concerns.
Everyone has the right to protest freely and to speak out for a better world. Individuals do not forfeit this right, even when others engage in vandalism or similar unlawful acts. Officers are only legally authorized to arrest a person based on individualized probable cause that the individual has committed a crime.
The use of unidentified militarized federal forces against the wishes of local officials, the exercise of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and the seemingly arbitrary detention of some of them without a clear reason for arrest are designed to intimidate protesters into surrendering their First Amendment rights.
We condemn these practices. We call for all unwanted federal forces to be removed from Portland and urge Congress to investigate the pattern and practice of abuses against protesters.
Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
American Friends Service Committee
American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN)
American Society of Journalists and Authors
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Asian American Advocacy Fund
Campaign for Liberty
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
Climate Defense Project
Climate Disobedience Center
Coalition for Civil Freedoms
Common Cause Oregon
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fight for the Future
First Look Media Works
Free Speech Coalition (FSC)
Friends of Human Rights
Government Accountability Project
Government Information Watch
Green Amendments For The Generations
International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR)
Muslim Justice League
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
People For the American Way
Portland Rising Tide
Restore The Fourth
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
The BlackOUT Collective
Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
UnKoch My Campus
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program at Expose Facts
Woodhull Freedom Foundation