Was Trump right to deploy federal officers to quell Portland protests?
- Ever since the death of George Floyd, protesters have been in the streets of Portland for more than 50 consecutive days. Federal officers have only “re-energized the demonstrations, with tear gas once again deployed by U.S. agents.”
- Mayor Ted Wheeler said, 'They're not wanted here. We haven't asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.”
- President Trump stated, “We’re going to have more federal law enforcement… In Portland they’ve done a fantastic job, they’ve been there three days and have done a fantastic job.”
- Federal officers are being blamed for “use of violent tactics” in light of tear gassing, kidnapping, and excessive force.
- According to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1978, the military cannot enforce law in U.S. states or territories without the explicit authorization of Congress. The Insurrection Act of 1807 provides an exception, giving the President power to deploy the National Guard or the military.
- The Insurrection Act was invoked numerous times throughout history by Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush.
For over 50 days straight, the city of Portland, Oregon, has failed to maintain order in their streets. As of late June, a survey showed that violence had cost businesses $23 million. With the city government unwilling to counter the violence, President Trump had no choice but to deploy federal law enforcement to protect government assets and arrest violent rioters.
Governments exist for two primary reasons: to protect life and to protect property. Only when governments demonstrate capability here do they enjoy the legitimacy to do more. This counters the desire of many to do whatever is right in their own eyes, often culminating in unrestrained mob rule. Riot-racked Seattle saw this dynamic in their CHAZ/CHOP zone, where lawlessness resulted in the tragic murder of a teenager, among many other crimes. Property and business need protection, as well. Without restoring order, businesses and people alike cannot function, much less thrive.
Riots have not only destroyed downtown establishments, but have also kept the area bereft of business. Losses of revenues on top of COVID-related problems will slash city financial resources going forward. Trump has legal precedent to follow. After pro-Confederate Baltimore riots and attacks on the railroad, President Lincoln allowed suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, citing emergency conditions. Chief Justice Taney ruled it unconstitutional, but also is historically tarnished by his Dred Scott decision.
After the assassination of a black Army colonel in Georgia, Lyndon Johnson deployed FBI resources to take down the KKK, a directive followed with relish by J. Edgar Hoover. The actions of former presidents serve as precedent for further action. The current emergency demands it.
Deploying federal troops to put down protests could undoubtedly be viewed as an active decision to infringe on the people's First Amendment right to assemble. Arguments in favor of this federal action say it's to deter the risk of violence. But that argument gets shot down in light of the violence being used against peaceful demonstrators. The tear gas and 'rubber bullets' being used have sent several journalists and many protestors to the hospital in critical condition. One example from Portland is Donovan La Bella, who was shot in the head by a federal agent with a 'rubber bullet,' which fractured his skull.
It has been known for decades that authorities 'escalating force' against protestors has the opposite of the intended effect. Even police showing up in riot gear leads to heightened tensions, and thus increased violence. The violent response to protests against police brutality has already led to a 'diminished image' of police in the eyes of the public. Even the US Army manual on counterinsurgencies discusses how the kinds of tactics being used cause people to view their governments as 'illegitimate.'
The actions of the federal troops in question have been condemned by public officials and the ACLU, and compared unfavorably to the actions of 'authoritarian governments.' The abduction of citizens by unidentified troops in unmarked vans is particularly troubling, drawing comparisons to Gestapo tactics. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said of the federal troops, 'They're not wanted here. We haven't asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.'