US federal officers would stay in the protest-wracked city of Portland until local law enforcement officials finish a “cleanup of anarchists and agitators,” US President Donald Trump said.
The forces — whose deployment was seen by many as part of the president’s law-and-order strategy for re-election and exacerbated tensions between authorities and anti-racism protestors — had been scheduled to begin their phased pullout from Portland on Thursday.
Trump late on Friday tweeted: “Homeland Security is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!”
Hundreds of demonstrators were still on the streets of downtown Portland yesterday morning, without any federal law enforcement in sight.
Portland police cleared parks and roads around the city center on Friday in anticipation of the phased pullout by federal forces.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the deployment was part of the agreement for federal officers to leave.
In a tweet late on Friday, Wheeler thanked the peaceful protestors, and said they had “reclaimed the space that has been a staging ground for violence, to share their powerful message of reformative justice.”
The Trump administration last month sent federal tactical teams, many wearing combat-like gear, to intervene in the city after weeks of protests against racism and police brutality saw windows broken and graffiti scrawled on the federal courthouse and other buildings.
However, their deployment inflamed the situation, especially following footage of protesters being snatched off the street by federal agents and put into unmarked vehicles.
Democrats said the intervention reeked of a “police state” and that it was a political move to show Trump — who is struggling in the polls ahead of November’s US presidential election — to voters as a strict law-and-order president.
US Attorney General William Barr has defended the use of federal officers, and rejected any suggestion of the political motivation.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s death, violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims,” Barr said in testimony to the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
Under an agreement between Oregon officials and the Trump administration on Wednesday, the federal forces were to begin withdrawing from the city on Thursday.
However, their pullout was conditional on local law enforcement ensuring the security of the federal courthouse and other buildings that have been targeted by protesters.
US Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, who earlier this week said that a full pullout depended on the security situation “significantly” improving.
Trump on Thursday reiterated the need for federal intervention.
“The governor and the mayor, we’ve been dealing with them, and we think they don’t know what they’re doing, because this should not have been going on for 60 days,” he told reporters.
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