Moms Sue Trump Administration to Stop Tear-Gassing of Portland Protesters

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 July 21, 2020. (Courthouse News photo/Karina Brown)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Wall of Moms, an organization of yellow-clad mothers turning out night after night to form a human shield protecting peaceful protesters from federal agents, is suing the Trump administration to stop the use of aggressive crowd control tactics in Portland, Oregon. 

The complaint filed in Washington on Monday challenges the deployment of federal agents to Portland to “unlawfully quash” protests for police reform in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

“Defendants have adopted a practice of deploying physical force, without provocation, warning, or legal grounds to do so, against peaceful protesters,” the 48-page lawsuit states. 

The nightly demonstrations have drawn national attention as federal agents used increasingly violent tactics against the gathering crowd. Last week, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler took to the street with protesters and was gassed by federal agents. 

Don’t Shoot Portland, a second women-founded organization providing assistance to protesters, joined the mothers in asking a federal judge to block the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades to disperse peaceful demonstrations.

In vivid detail, the two organizations claim their members have been repeatedly victimized by federal forces clad in military fatigues.

In a predictable pattern, the plaintiffs argue, the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security officials have fired tear gas between 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. to break up the crowd gathered outside the federal courthouse. 

“They have been tear-gassed night after night, left vomiting and unable to eat or sleep because of the toxic poison blasted at them,” the complaint states. 

Even when protesters stood blocks away from the courthouse and posed no threat, according to the lawsuit, federal agents have repeatedly fired projectiles at close range and detonated flash-bang explosive devices directly in front of them. 

Filed against the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the complaint argues the Trump administration has violated protesters’ First Amendment rights. Neither agency responded to requests for comment Monday. 

President Donald Trump in recent weeks has claimed Portland was out of control and that federal agents are reinstituting order, while also threatening to take over cities run by “super-liberal mayors.” 

City officials, meanwhile, have called the federal forces on their streets the president’s “personal army” and called for Washington to pull the troops out of Portland.

Monday’s lawsuit also takes aim at Trump administration officials carrying out the operation in Portland who were never confirmed by the Senate, including acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and his acting deputy Ken Cuccinelli.

“The large number of acting officials at DHS, and throughout the Trump administration, is part of a deliberate strategy, as the president explained in 2019: ‘I like “acting” because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility,’” the complaint states. 

Since the administration launched “Operation Diligent Valor” on the streets of Portland, the plaintiffs say they have been subject to unconstitutional attacks by their own government.

“Since July 4, they have been repeatedly attacked by an army of over 100 camouflage-clad federal agents,” the complaint states. 

The Washington legal challenge follows similar lawsuits filed in Oregon accusing federal officers of whisking away protesters in unmarked vehicles and targeting the press, including a Courthouse News reporter. 

A federal judge last week ordered federal officers not to arrest or assault journalists and legal observers. 

“When wrongdoing is underway, officials have great incentive to blindfold the watchful eyes of the fourth estate. The free press is the guardian of the public’s interests and the independent judiciary is the guardian of the free press,” wrote U.S. District Judge Michael Simon, a Barack Obama appointee.

The court ruling followed a similar decision by a federal judge last month banning the use of tear gas by local police in a lawsuit brought by Don’t Shoot Portland. 

The activist group also raised concern on Monday over the risk of deploying tear gas during the coronavirus pandemic given it is an infectious respiratory disease.

Several Black mothers — including one of the original organizers of Wall of Moms, Beverly Barnum — joined the lawsuit as individual plaintiffs who claim to have suffered bodily harm while routinely attending the protests. 

Barnum and her fellow moms had hoped their presence would remind federal agents that the protesters were young adults calling for an end to systemic racism. 

“That hope met a brutal reality when federal officers, dressed for war, blasted everyone, including Ms. Barnum and Wall of Moms linked arm-in-arm, with tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and other munitions,” the complaint states.

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