Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to cease any cooperation between city law enforcement and the federal agents sent to Portland to stifle protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
“I’m bringing this resolution forward today, because in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic crisis, our city is now enduring a violent federal paramilitary occupation,” said City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who introduced the resolution. “While there are many elements of this situation beyond city council's control, we must take every action available to combat violations of those constitutional and human rights of our residents.”
This resolution codifies the shaky promises made by local officials to keep local police from collaborating with officers dressed in camouflage combat uniforms that have been clouding downtown Portland in nightly violence.
“Be it resolved that all members of the Portland Police Bureau shall not provide, request, or willingly receive operational support… from any agent or employee representing or constituting part of deployment under executive order from the president,” the resolution reads.
Federal officers with the US Marshals Service and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been policing Portland protests since they began in late May. But their response escalated on June 26, after Donald Trump penned an executive order deploying federal police to protect federal monuments and buildings from “left-wing extremists.” By July 4, a swarm of specialty federal agents—Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team—had landed in Portland.
These agents have responded to Portlanders demonstrating in front of the Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse with remarkable force. In response to graffiti, broken windows, and other perceived threats to the courthouse building, these officers have fired canisters of tear gas and flash-bang grenades indiscriminately into crowds of non-violent demonstrators without warning. Their heavy-handed use of so-called “less-lethal” crowd control munitions has sent dozens of Portlanders to the hospital, some in critical condition. On Monday evening, several federal police were seen pointing assault rifles and pistols at the crowd.
While Mayor Ted Wheeler has stressed that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has disengaged with federal police over the past week, actions on the ground by Portland police suggest otherwise. On Friday, PPB officers appeared to be working in concert with the federal agents, rushing in to arrest and beat members of the public after federal police shot a barrage of tear gas and munitions at people gathered at SW Main and 3rd. Earlier that day, PPB Chief Chuck Lovell acknowledged that the police bureau does “communicate with federal officers for the purpose of situational awareness and deconfliction.” By Saturday, Wheeler said he’d since barred federal agents from joining city officers at PPB’s incident command center during nightly protests.
The City Council resolution guarantees this disengagement. The policy, approved unanimously by commissioners Wednesday afternoon, isn’t a temporary fix—the vote makes it binding city policy. Officers who disobey the order will be “subject to discipline for violating the policies of the elected City Council and disobeying the direct order of a superior officer.”
But formally segregating Portland police from federal officers did not shield PPB from the commissioners’ criticism. Before voting in favor, Hardesty noted that the federal visitors aren’t the only law enforcement officers abusing the rights of Portlanders.
"Let me be clear: The opening came for [Trump] to send in this malicious squad because of the over-aggressive actions of Portland police,” said Hardesty. “We cannot put the blame totally on this secret federal police force. The blame should rest entirely on the Portland Police Bureau and their lack of deescalation skills... and their lack of desire to protect Portlanders who are under fire every single night.”
A second resolution proposed Wednesday by Eudaly attempts to underscore a current legal order prohibiting PPB’s use of force against legal observers and members of the press.
“...There have been serious allegations made that tear gas, pepper spray, excessive force, calls to disperse, and arrest have been used to prevent the press from documenting the actions of officers and protesters,” reads the resolution.
It’s these allegations that prompted the ACLU of Oregon to file a class action lawsuit against the City of Portland and its police bureau in late June, accusing PPB of violating the constitution by assaulting and arresting journalists for observing and documenting recent protest activity.
(Editor's Note: The Portland Mercury is one of several plaintiffs in this case.)
A federal judge approved a temporary restraining order on July 2, barring media and legal reporters from arrest, assault, or forced dispersal by PPB officers as the lawsuit plays out in court. While city attorneys deny the lawsuits’ allegations, members of City Council affirmed otherwise Wednesday.
“The violence perpetrated against members of the media and legal observers by the Portland Police Bureau and by federal occupiers is completely unacceptable,” Eudaly said. “The press helps hold the government accountable for its actions and the lack of government accountability for police violence is what has led millions of protesters around the globe to take to the streets.”
The resolution, which also garnered unanimous support from city commissioners, "affirms" the court order and adds an extra threat that officers in violation will be will "subject to discipline for violating the policies of the elected City Council." It's not immediately clear what that discipline would be.
In her closing remarks, Eudaly spoke directly to the lawsuit's plaintiffs: "You should not have to risk your safety to do your job... I am hopeful the action we take today will make you safer on our streets."