(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) yesterday held a roundtable discussion with Democratic Members to examine President Trump’s deployment of federal agents to Portland. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) and Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), who represent Portland, participated in the discussion.

“As the country attempts to reckon with its sordid history of racism, the President, rather than rising to the occasion to try to participate in this dialogue, instead has tried to use these magnificent, nonviolent protests— cheered on by our late and beloved colleague, John Lewis—as the setting to create violent confrontations and to score cheap political points for his floundering reelection campaign,” Rep. Raskin stated.

 “The federal agents who came to Portland had no specialized training in how to respond to mass protests, a form of inexperience which has resulted in gross and intolerable abuses of protesters’ civil liberties and bodily security,” Rep. Raskin said. “With each passing day the agents’ blatant disregard for the Constitution and legal constraints became increasingly clear to the country.”

This sentiment was echoed by Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University and a leading scholar of authoritarianism and fascism.  Referring to federal officers who were not readily identifiable to the public, Snyder noted, “A secret police force is characteristic of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. It cannot be reconciled with the rule of law as it is generally understood in this country.  Most obviously, the practices of a secret police force, as we have seen in Portland, violate laws that prohibit kidnapping and assault.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum also provided a written statement

“The use of force becomes even more chilling when taken in the context of the apparent federal mission here.  Based on public comments by federal authorities, beginning with the President himself, it almost seems as if excessive force was the real point of this exercise.  Specifically, the clear inference from their remarks is that these officers were deployed here not to enforce federal laws—or even to defend federal property and personnel—but to provoke confrontation and assault protesters.  In fact, the language they used includes the expression ‘dominate.’  The actions of federal officers on the ground here showed they took that message to heart.  Moreover, I saw no evidence they were doing anything to single out the so-called ‘violent anarchists’ their leaders repeatedly invoked.”

Protesters, local leaders, and advocates from Oregon told the Members more about the dangerous abuses of civil rights and civil liberties that have occurred in Portland.

  • State Senator Lew Frederick (D-OR), who is a leading the charge for police reform in Oregon’s state legislature and has been involved in Portland’s Black Lives Matter protests since George Floyd’s murder, argued that the deployment of federal troops backfired: “Firing rubber bullets, pepper balls, tear gas canisters and other projectiles, at crowds of unarmed peaceful demonstrators only enraged Oregonians.  Beating people on camera only confirmed the need to reform the police use of excessive force.”
  • Mark Pettibone, a Black Lives Matter protester, recounted his story of being illegally arrested by unidentified federal agents: “An unmarked, dark-colored mini-van pulled up directly in front of us and four or five people wearing military fatigues jumped out. I was shocked and afraid for my life. I fled west on Main St. while one of the people from the van pursued me on foot.  As I turned the corner on Broadway, a van cut me off and, realizing I couldn’t escape, I dropped to my knees, asking ‘Why?’ several times.  Nobody gave me any explanation.  They didn’t tell me who they were or why I was being detained; they simply forced me into the back of the of van.”
  • Christopher David, a Navy veteran who was assaulted by unidentified federal agents, recalled why he was drawn to protest: “I watched on TV as Federal officers, in unmarked uniforms, arbitrarily abducted U.S. citizens from the streets of Portland and shove them into rented mini-vans.  I was shocked and appalled.  If the U.S. Government could do this to our fellow citizens, where would it end?”
  • Kelly Simon, Interim Legal Director of the ACLU of Oregon, said, “These police tactics have no place in a free society and fly in the face of our country’s founding constitutional principles, of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, the right to petition our government for redress of grievances, of due process, of a presumption of innocence, of prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, of power held by ‘we the people.’”