Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Lieu Introduce Amendment to Curtail Federal Crackdown on Protesters

The amendment would prohibit funds from being used to send federal agents into American cities.

FILE - In this July 20, 2020 file photo Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. When armed protesters took over a remote wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon four years ago to oppose federal control of public lands, U.S. agents negotiated with the conservative occupiers for weeks while some state leaders begged for stronger action. This month, federal officers sent to Portland to quell chaotic protests against racial injustice took swift and, some say, harsh action: launching tear gas, firing less-lethal ammunition and helping arrest more than 40 people in the first two weeks. (AP Photo/Noah Berger,File)
Federal agents use crowd-control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Oregon, on July 20, 2020. Photo: Noah Berger/AP

Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ted Lieu of California are proposing an amendment this week that would prohibit funds from being used to send federal agents into American cities as part of Operation Legend or Operation Relentless Pursuit: Justice Department initiatives that have led brutal crackdowns on protesters in cities like Portland, Oregon. While the Trump administration has framed the dispatching of secret police as efforts meant “to help state and local officials fight the surge of violent crime,” critics such as Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner have called the tactics “fascist.”

The measure, which was filed as an amendment to the upcoming House Appropriations bill, is co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan, Deb Haaland of New Mexico, and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri. The House Rules Committee is meeting today to decide which of the hundreds of amendments filed will be considered for a minibus spending package this week.

“I thank Rep. Lieu for co-leading this important amendment,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “Federal law enforcement officers are snatching Americans off of street corners and placing them into unmarked cars for the ‘crime’ of exercising their First Amendment rights. The United States of America should not have secret police. The idea that these federal law enforcement officers are there to protect Americans is a farce. In his testimony today, Attorney General Bill Barr made clear once again that his only priority is to reelect the President, not to protect the American people.”

In Portland, officers have been using violent tactics against protests over racism and police brutality, facing off with demonstrators around the federal courthouse every night for about two months now. There have also been recent reports and videos of anonymous, militarized federal agents snatching protesters off the street, throwing them into vans, and driving off.


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Last week, President Donald Trump announced his administration is expanding the operation — which Democratic lawmakers have denounced as authoritarian and his “shadowy army” — to send agents to Chicago and Albuquerque. The White House has also outlined plans to send law enforcement to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee — despite concern from many mayors and elected officials. More than 200 agents have been sent to Kansas City, Missouri, as part of Operation Legend.

“Portland is struggling with the economic disaster of COVID-19 … and, by the way, crime in Portland has actually been lower than average in recent weeks,” Wyden wrote in a recent NBC News op-ed. “It seems that, because liberal Portland in blue Oregon is not the violent wasteland the far-right echo chamber imagines, Trump and his flunkies are determined to bring violence to us.”

Wyden, along with several other Senate Democrats, also pushed for similar action in the Senate, sending a letter to their colleagues in the Appropriations Committee on July 24.

Attorney General William Barr announced the launch of Operation Relentless Pursuit, which committed at least $71 million in funding to bulk up law enforcement, in December 2019. Operation Legend, meanwhile, has been used to send federal agents to assist police officers.

Trump has been crafting a law-and-order narrative as part of his reelection bid, accusing Democratic lawmakers of failing to respond to violence stemming from the protests over the police killing of George Floyd. In reality, the police have instigated or escalated several of the clashes and riots, including in Portland where a U.S. Marshal severely injured a protester. The deployments include increased numbers of agents from the FBI; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; U.S. Marshal Service; and Department of Homeland Security.

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