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Feds Won’t Back Down, and Neither Will Portland Protesters

The 54th consecutive night of protests against racism and police brutality was filled with drumming and dancing, then with tear gas and flash bangs.

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — The 54th consecutive night of protests against racism and police brutality was filled with drumming and dancing, then with tear gas and flash bangs.

The stone portico of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse is covered in graffiti and powered pepper spray — a residual that floats like federal fairy dust from pepper balls shot at protesters on previous nights by the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Roughly 1,000 protesters chanted and danced to drums Tuesday night outside the courthouse until a few people started a small fire on the courthouse steps. That’s when federal police emerged, flash bangs and tear gas cannisters flying. This time they used a new formation. Instead of bursting out of the boarded-up front doors of the courthouse to confront protesters directly, they approached in two groups from opposite sides of the building, converging to push the crowd back through the park across the street, where more tear gas cannisters wafted their toxic contents.

Protesters regrouped repeatedly, pushing back toward the courthouse only to be met with more shots and flash bangs. Medics zoomed around, flushing eyes and bandaging abrasions. Fireworks exploded overhead occasionally, their green and red sparks filling the night sky.

City and state officials have objected to the deployment of federal police, whose members include the Border Patrol. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed an emergency motion for a restraining order Monday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Multiple reports indicate that federal police have grabbed protesters off the streets and detained them in unmarked vehicles without probable cause. In her motion, Rosenblum said it was clear from statements by President Trump and the leaders of the agencies she sued that they plan to continue such constitutionally questionable arrests.

Rosenblum cited Trump’s executive order, calling for federal troops and law enforcement to “protect federal property” for six months.

“My administration will not allow violent mobs incited by a radical fringe to become the arbiters of the aspects of our history that can be celebrated in public spaces,” Trump’s June 26 executive order states. “State and local public officials’ abdication of their law enforcement responsibilities in deference to this violent assault must end.”

A group of mothers who said they were there to protect protesters lined up outside the federal courthouse at a protest against police brutality in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday, July 21. (Courthouse News photo/Karina Brown)

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman was to hear arguments on the motion Wednesday morning.

A new federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday by two Oregon state representatives, a Unitarian church and the Western States Center, claiming Trump’s deployment of federal troops to Portland is unconstitutional and designed to avoid police accountability.

“Though sent in the guise of bringing order to Portland’s streets, their arrival has made things much worse for Portlanders,” the lawsuit states. Several people abducted from the streets have said the police did not identify themselves or say why they carrying out the arrests, leading some victims to worry that the perpetrators may have been right-wing militias.

Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told Fox News on Tuesday that federal police under his command are doing “proactive arrests” of Portland protesters.

“And so the department, because we don’t have that local law enforcement support, we are having to go out a proactively arrest individuals,” Wolf told Fox News host Martha MacCallum. “And we need to do that because we need to hold them accountable.”

Wolf said that video showing U.S. marshals in combat fatigues snatching protesters off the street and whisking them away in rented minivans without probable cause was taken out of context.

“Any time you grab a few seconds of any one video, what you don’t see is the video in the preceding minutes and the minutes after that,” Wolf said. “But at the end of the day, this is a violent situation. We have law enforcement officers going up against 400, 500, 600 violent individuals. So we need to be aggressive with these individuals. We need to hold them accountable.”

The Democratic chairs of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said Tuesday that the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have stonewalled their efforts to investigate the use of force by federal police deployed in Portland.

Five Democratic members of Congress demanded information in a June 5 letter.

“To date, we have not received any meaningful answers to our oversight requests, and the Trump Administration continues to violate the rights of American citizens and their state governments unabated,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday said Trump is “determined to sow chaos and division.”

“We all remember the appalling scenes in front of the White House, when peaceful protesters were gassed to make way for a Trump photo op,” Biden said in a statement. “Now Homeland Security agents — without a clearly defined mandate or authority — are ranging far from federal property, stripped of badges and insignia and identifying markings, to detain people. They are brutally attacking peaceful protesters, including a U.S. Navy veteran.”

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden shared a video on Twitter of Portland moms leading a crowd of thousands in a protest song resembling a lullaby: “Hands up, please don’t shoot me.”

“Only a coward would try to convince the entire country that these people are violent anarchists, then deploy paramilitary forces to tear gas them,” Wyden wrote.

Protesters gather outside the federal courthouse at a protest against police brutality in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday, July 21. (Courthouse News photo/Karina Brown)

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