U.S. federal agents fired tear gas at protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon late Wednesday.
Protesters have demonstrated in Portland for 56 consecutive days, rallying against police violence, racial inequality and the recent deployment of the federal forces in the city.
Mayor Ted Wheeler was among those standing by a fence in front of the courthouse when the agents fired the tear gas.
The mayor arrived at the protest area earlier in the day and pledged his solidarity with the crowd, but his presence was largely rejected as many yelled at him.
Critics have faulted Wheeler for not controlling the city’s police force, which threatened its own use of force with tear gas and arrests Wednesday night. Others, including business owners who have seen their operations disrupted by the protests say Wheeler has failed to bring the situation under control.
A riot has been declared outside the Justice Center. Disperse to the north and/or west. Disperse immediately. Failure to adhere to this order may subject you to arrest or citation, or riot control agents, including, but not limited to, tear gas and/or impact weapons.
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) July 23, 2020
Also Wednesday, the Oregon attorney general filed a lawsuit accusing the federal agents of arresting protesters without cause and using excessive force, which federal authorities have disputed.
Federal law enforcement agents are being dispatched as part of Operation Legend by the Justice Department to Kansas City, Missouri, Albuquerque in the state of New Mexico, and in the country’s largest Midwestern city – Chicago in Illinois – to crack down on a surge of killings.
Portland is not part of this operation, though federal agents are being used there on the front lines of the protest.
President Donald Trump has said that cities such as Chicago, run by members of the Democratic Party, have “abdicated their duty” and embraced “the extreme radical left” to defund police departments.
“Under Operation Legend, we will also soon send federal law enforcement to other cities that need help,” he said. “My administration will be working to remove dangerous offenders sprung loose by these deadly policies and, frankly, by these deadly politicians.”
The dispatches of the federal law enforcement officers are opposed by city leaders in Portland, Albuquerque, Chicago and 12 other mayors, who sent a letter to the federal government calling for the immediately withdrawal of its forces and “agree to no further unilateral deployments in U.S. cities.”
David Chipman, a senior policy adviser at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told VOA that when he was an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “I was proud to work with local leaders when they needed help righting wrongs,” but that Trump’s recent actions in Portland and his statements about problems in other cities “make clear he thinks federal law enforcement are his personal chess pieces for partisan power grabs.”