WASHINGTON (CN) — In an initiative widely seen as part of his search for a campaign theme, President Donald Trump ramped up his controversial policy of sending federal agents in military uniform to cities where demonstrations are taking place.
Linking spikes in violent crime to coast-to-coast demonstrations for social justice, the president accused Democrat-run cities for the uptick in homicides, pointing specifically to so-called sanctuary cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities..
“My administration will be working to remove dangerous offenders sprung loose by these deadly policies and frankly, by these deadly politicians,” Trump said from the East Room of the White House.
Over 200 federal agents are already on the ground in Kansas City, Missouri, following a record rise in violence after the recent shooting death of a young boy.
Attorney General William Barr said during the White House press conference Wednesday that a similar deployment of federal force will join local law enforcement in Chicago and 35 federal agents will head to Albuquerque, New Mexico, as part of Operation Legend.
Trump also said the Justice Department will provide more than $61 million in grants to hire hundreds of new police officers in cities that are the focus of the operation, first announced on July 8.
Critics have accused the president of occupying America’s cities in an effort to demonstrate authority as his poll numbers drop with the election just four months out.
The hand-in-glove approach, as Barr described it, of federal officers working with local police marks a departure from the normal Justice Department method of sending agents under its own departments, such as the FBI or Drug Enforcement Agency.
Both Trump and Barr wove in denunciations of recent calls to defund the police following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis— a policy proposal to redirect funding for law enforcement to invest in communities, specifically marginalized ones where police violence often takes place.
“My vision for America’s cities could not be more different from the lawlessness being pushed by the extreme radical left. While others want to defund, defame and abolish the police, I want to support and honor our great police,” Trump said.
Launching into a rally-like rattling off of comparisons between Democrats’ policies and his own, the president then rolled into talking about school choice, manufacturing and the American dream.
He also urged Americans to hold their city leaders accountable, accusing local officials of abdicating the duty of policing.
“[Americans] must insist that community officials fully support, fully back and fully fund their local police departments,” Trump said.
Department of Homeland Security officers are currently operating in Portland, Oregon, and other regions to protect federal property and monuments after Trump loudly condemned efforts by protesters to tear down Confederate statues.
Local officials have pushed back against the surge of federal forces into their cities, including in Portland where agents have been accused of using excessive force against protesters.
In Albuquerque, chief of police Mike Geier said Tuesday ahead of the announcement by the White House that he hoped it was not just a cheap political stunt, noting homicides are down and recent protests have been peaceful.
“There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city. If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state,” the city’s mayor Tim Keller said in the same statement Tuesday.
But Trump claimed on Wednesday that the surge strategy is intended to make the lives of all Americans safer, saying federal agents will show up “with full force” to respond when cities and states make the request to Washington.
“I'm proud to fight by your side to deliver a better future for the citizens of every race, color, religion and creed,” the president said, adding: “We will stop this horrible situation very quickly.”
Experts have challenged the administration’s claim of recent protests over race and police violence triggering higher crime rates. They point to the unprecedented events the country is facing and argue there is no easy explanation for the escalation, amid the coronavirus pandemic killing over 140,000 Americans, stay-at-home orders, a plummeting economy and a national reckoning over police brutality.
Operation Legend was named after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was fatally shot while sleeping in an apartment in Kansas City last month. His mother, Charron Powell, joined the president along with other family members of victims of deadly shootings at the White House on Wednesday.
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