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Merkley and Wyden draft legislation to halt 'federal paramilitary occupation' in Portland

(Photo courtesy Doug Brown / ACLU of Oregon)

Oregon's U.S. Senators and several Representatives are championing legislation aimed at reining in federal law enforcement officers in Portland and other cities.

Posted: Jul 20, 2020 4:40 PM
Updated: Jul 20, 2020 5:20 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a clear follow-up to statements made earlier this week decrying the presence of federal law enforcement officers in Portland, a group of Oregon's U.S. lawmakers have drafted legislation aimed at stopping what they call "paramilitary occupations" in cities.

The Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act was introduced by Oregon's U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden and Senator Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, along with Oregon Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C.


(Photo courtesy Doug Brown / ACLU of Oregon)

In the Senate, this legislation comes in the form of a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently under debate.

The nightly protests in Portland sparked by the death of George Floyd made national headlines last week as two related events dovetailed.

On Thursday, the city saw a visit from U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf, who widely referred to protesters outside of the federal Mark O. Hatfield courthouse as "violent anarchists" and described the city as one under siege, criticizing local and state leaders for refusing to "restore order."

Almost simultaneously, federal law enforcement officers in Portland earned widespread scrutiny when one protester was hospitalized after being struck in the head by a "less lethal" round. At least one individual also reported being pulled into an unmarked vehicle by camouflage-clad federal agents for interrogation.

"Donald Trump's occupying army continues to trample on the constitutional rights of Oregonians and escalate violence against peaceful protesters," Senator Wyden said. "If Congress doesn't step in, these authoritarian tactics won't stop in my hometown. If it can happen in Portland, it can happen anywhere."

The amendment would require that federal officers carry both individual and agency identification on their uniforms, and bar them from using unmarked vehicles during arrests. It would also limit crowd-control to federal property or the immediate area, unless requested otherwise "by both the mayor and the governor."

Federal agencies would also have to disclose on their websites within 24 hours of deployment, noting both the number of personnel and the purposes of deployment. Any arrests made in violation of the new rules would be unlawful.

The amendment has widespread support from Democrats — including former presidential candidates Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker — but it's unclear whether it will gain any traction in the Republican-dominated Senate.

"Without identification there is no way to hold these officers accountable, and there is no way to know if they are really federal officers," said Senator Murphy. "We cannot allow an American secret police. I hope that Republicans will join us in recognizing the severity of this threat and include this legislation in the NDAA."

Acting DHS Secretary Wolf continued firing back on Monday, citing more protests in Portland over the weekend — demonstrations that appear to have gained renewed vigor due to the crackdown by federal officers.

"Attempted arson is not a peaceful protest. Physically attacking law enforcement is not freedom of speech. Destruction of property is not peaceful assembly," Wolf said. "Criminals perpetrating these crimes are being arrested…not law abiding protesters."

According to DHS, some individuals on Saturday night — again referred to broadly as "violent anarchists" — threw fireworks at the federal courthouse building "attempting to injure or kill federal officers," used lasers to target officers' eyes, broke down fencing, and set fires.

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Coos910
Clatsop870
Crook511
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Wallowa201
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Sherman160
Harney110
Gilliam40
Grant40
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Wheeler00

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