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Mayors of Major US Cities Reject Deployment of Federal Forces

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser walks on the street leading to the White House after the words Black Lives Matter were painted in enormous bright yellow letters on the street by city workers and activists, June 5, 2020, in Washington.

A group of 15 U.S. major city mayors are calling on the federal government to immediately withdraw federal forces and “agree to no further unilateral deployments in U.S. cities.”

In a letter Tuesday to Attorney General William Barr and acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, the mayors said the federal government deciding on its own to send forces into American cities “is unprecedented and violates fundamental constitutional protections.”

The signatories include Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.

Portland, Oregon has been at the forefront of the issue since federal forces deployed there in early July. Since then, what had been smaller ongoing protests against police brutality and racial injustice have grown and become more tense, with clashes between protesters and federal personnel and allegations of federal forces taking people away in unmarked cars without cause.

Federal officials have defended the deployment as necessary, saying local leaders and law enforcement failed to stop vandalism and violence against federal officers at the U.S. courthouse in Portland.

“We need to find a peaceful outcome,” acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said at a news conference Tuesday. “At the end of the day, we have to protect the federal property and the law enforcement officers.”

Federal agents disperse Black Lives Matter protesters near the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Oregon, July 20, 2020.
Federal agents disperse Black Lives Matter protesters near the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Oregon, July 20, 2020.

Oregon’s attorney general has filed one of several lawsuits opposing the deployments and the conduct of the federal officers.

The mayors said in their letter Tuesday that sending the federal forces to Portland has only escalated the situation there and “increased the risk of violence against both civilians and local law enforcement officers.”

“The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a national uprising and reckoning. Millions have joined protests and exercised their constitutional rights,” they wrote to Barr and Wolf. “The majority of protests have been peaceful and aimed at improving our communities. Where this is not the case, it still does not justify the use of federal forces.”

They further objected to what they called blatant disregard for local standards of officers being identified, wearing body cameras and having oversight for their actions.

President Donald Trump has pledged to expand the effort and send federal forces to other major U.S. cities.

“Well, I'm going to do something -- that, I can tell you. Because we're not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these -- Oakland is a mess. We're not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats,” Trump told reporters Monday.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news briefing Tuesday that Trump sending federal forces there “would only create more problems,” and that the city would immediately take legal action to stop it.

“What's happened in Portland has been a travesty,” de Blasio said. “It's literally the federal government coming into a situation that local officials were addressing, and making it much worse.”

Lightfoot said Tuesday that the Trump administration is sending agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who will be working as part of existing cooperation between federal agencies and Chicago authorities.

She added that Chicago welcomes “actual partnership,” but will be ready to challenge any actions to that go beyond working with the city.

"Because unfortunately, we can't put anything past the Trump administration. I'm hopeful that they will not be foolish enough to bring that kind of nonsense to Chicago. But I'm also not naive, and we're going to be diligent, and we're gonna be ready, and if we need to stop him, we are going to."

The federal government sent about 100 officers to Kansas City earlier this month to work with local law enforcement deal with a rise in deadly violence there this year. Trump is scheduled to make remarks about that program at the White House on Wednesday.