‘Intolerable’: Lawmakers blast federal response to Portland protests

2020 Protests

Federal authorities have repeatedly used tear gas on protesters in downtown Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Four of Oregon’s federal lawmakers are demanding answers from U.S. Attorney William Barr and the acting Homeland Security secretary regarding the actions of federal law enforcement agents against demonstrators in downtown Portland in recent weeks, including injuring a protester over the weekend.

The letter to Barr and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf was signed by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley along with U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer on Tuesday.

“This politically driven federal response is intolerable,” they wrote. “The apparent lack of operational coordination between agencies, departments, and offices, and the violence perpetrated by federal personnel is particularly concerning.”

Federal authorities have used tear gas against demonstrators multiple times since Friday. On Saturday, a federal officer shot a protester in the face with a “less lethal” crowd control munition as the protester was raising a boom box over his head; the protester, identified as Donavan Labella, is recovering from critical injuries.

“We unequivocally condemn such acts of violence and any effort to target, attack, or silence those peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights,” the lawmakers wrote, adding they wanted answers to numerous questions regarding the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security’s actions, including whether federal officers were trained on how to interact with protesters and if the training included “nonviolent means of de-escalation,” by July 21.

City and state leaders have also condemned the federal response to the ongoing protests.

The downtown Portland demonstrations, which marked its 47th consecutive night on Tuesday, started in late May following the killing of George Floyd. Floyd’s death, which was caught on camera as a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis, sparked protests nationwide. Dozens of demonstrators have been arrested in Portland, and city and county law enforcement agencies are still under orders to limit the use of tear gas; however, the judge’s order does not apply to federal authorities.

Homeland Security officers have been involved in the protests after President Donald Trump repeatedly criticized the response of Portland officials.

“Portland was totally out of control, and they went in, and I guess we have many people right now in jail. We very much quelled it, and if it starts again, we’ll quell it again very easily. It’s not hard to do, if you know what you’re doing,” Trump said on Monday during a roundtable discussion at the White House.

On Wednesday, Trump talked about Portland again.

“We’re doing a great job in Portland. Portland was very rough and they called us in and we did a good job to put it mildly. Many people in jail right now,” Trump said.

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