As federal law enforcement agents continue to brutalize and detain Portland, Oregon protesters, President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to send federal officers to other Democrat-controlled cities, saying officers have done a “great job” in Portland. On the list is Chicago, with Kansas City, Missouri and Albuquerque possibly next.
Federal officers have been detaining protesters in Portland for at least a week, as reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting. Protesters have described officers dressed in camo pulling up in unmarked cars and detaining people with no explanation.
One protester was left hospitalized after federal officers shot him in the head with so-called less lethal munitions on July 11.
Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said federal officers will not leave Portland, despite insistence from local elected officials — including Mayor Ted Wheeler — that they do so. Trump has praised federal officers’ actions in the city.
“Portland was totally out of control, and they went in, and I guess we have many people right now in jail,” Trump said on Monday. “We very much quelled it.”
But Portland protests — which have gone on for more than fifty consecutive days despite Portland police terrorizing and attacking protesters night after night — have only grown recently. Thousands of people gathered Monday night, including dozens of moms who protected protesters from officers outside a federal courthouse.
News that federal officers may be deployed to Albuquerque circulated social media Tuesday. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier released statements in response, both suggesting that Trump’s plans are an election-year stunt.
“There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city,” Keller said. “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. We will not sell out our own community, or our own police department, for this obvious political agenda; as they try to incite violence by targeting our city and our residents.”
Geier said Trump’s plan is “politics standing in the way of police work.”
“Contrary to the claims of the politicians in Washington, D.C., we came into long-standing challenges with crime in Albuquerque and have worked closely with our community to make the city safer,” Geier’s statement read in part. “Protests have been mostly peaceful in Albuquerque and much less violent and destructive than other cities because of our focus on reform and community policing.”
Keller and Geier’s statements come days after APD officers detained two Black men who were part of a group counter protesting an anti-quarantine protest named “We Can’t Breathe” on Sunday morning.
The men were detained for open carrying and allegedly refusing to disarm, which raised questions of uneven enforcement of the city’s firearms ban given that APD did not detain any white anti-quarantine protesters for the same offense on Thursday, as the Daily Lobo reported.
Also on Sunday, APD officers pepper sprayed counter-protesters, which a Daily Lobo photographer was caught in.
Keller — who defended the department after officers tear-gassed protesters following the shooting at the Oñate demonstration last month — did not comment on Sunday’s protest or the police response.
There are concerns that federal officers being deployed could disproportionately affect communities of color. The first incident of police violence against Black Lives Matter protesters in Albuquerque occurred after a demonstration in the International District. Protesters were tear gassed after APD arrested four teenagers of color, one of whom told KUNM that the police terrorized and physically harmed them.
The CBS report is particularly troubling given that Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales is scheduled to meet with Trump and Attorney General William Barr Wednesday to discuss crime as part of Operation Relentless Pursuit, a Department of Justice program launched in December of last year.
The program was reportedly aimed at driving down crime in seven cities, which Albuquerque was included in.
Dozens of civil rights groups jointly submitted a letter last week to the House Committees on Appropriations and Oversight and Reform in opposition to the program, which they say “encourages the over-policing of Black and Brown communities while doing nothing to increase public safety.”
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich called for Gonzales’ resignation on Tuesday.
“Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque,” Heinrich said. “If we can learn anything from Portland, it’s that we don’t need this kind of ‘help’ from the White House. The President is currently using federal law enforcement agents like a domestic paramilitary force. That’s precisely how fascism begins and none of us should ever encourage or accept it.”
Hours later, Heinrich tweeted, “The U.S. Attorney for New Mexico informed me today that ‘Operation Legend’ is coming to Albuquerque. Given the mess it created in Portland, I let him know in no uncertain terms that this isn’t the kind of ‘help’ that Albuquerque needs.”
Attorney General Barr announced Operation Legend — a nationwide initiative being launched under the guise of stopping violent crime — earlier this month.
Polarizing political protests, fomenting dissent and sowing distrust in the United States’ system of government are time-tested presidential campaign tactics that have been utilized since at least the mid-20th century.
As Trump's re-election campaign is floundering amidst record unemployment and gross mismanagement of the pandemic, escalating fear and state sanctioned violence is likely just the most recent of what is expected to be a series of attention getting maneuvers leading up to the election.
This is a developing story.
Bella Davis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bladvs