All eyes are on Portland right now, as anti-police protests continue for the 49th day. But it’s not the protestors that are causing alarm nationwide. Federal law enforcement officers without identifying badges were caught on video this week using unmarked vans to drive around downtown Portland and detain people at random. This news comes just after President Donald Trump threatened to “quell” nightly protests taking place outside the federal courthouse and the Multnomah County Justice Center in Oregon.
Videos posted to Twitter since the early hours of July 15 show agents wearing camouflage uniforms rushing protestors, detaining them, and taking them into unmarked rental cars to an unknown location. One video shows the agents getting into an unmarked van and driving off. The person filming asks, “How are we supposed to know who you are? How are we supposed to know you’re not kidnapping us?”
Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old Portland resident recounted his detainment that morning to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “I am basically tossed into the van,” Pettibone said. “And I had my beanie pulled over my face so I couldn’t see and they held my hands over my head.” Pettibone said the agents took him into a building — he later identified it as the federal courthouse — went through his belongings, and read his Miranda rights, but did not say why he was being arrested. After refusing to speak to agents without a lawyer, Pettibone was released.
“I just happened to be wearing black on a sidewalk in downtown Portland at the time. And that apparently is grounds for detaining me,” Pettibone said.
Some onlookers have accused President Trump of deploying a “secret army,” following threats from him and acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf to essentially go after what they’re calling “violent anarchists” in Portland. A DHS press release made the rounds earlier this week, alleging that “Portland has been under siege,” and included an offer “to bring an end to the violence perpetuated by anarchists.”
“A peaceful protester in Portland was shot in the head by one of Donald Trump’s secret police,” Sen. Ron Wyden tweeted. “Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said earlier this week that they do not want the help of federal officers. “The best thing they can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether,” said Wheeler. Still, the officers have escalated unrest in the city and have shot at unarmed protestors, deployed tear gas, and abducted them. Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty echoed this, saying,“[Law enforcement's] presence here has escalated tensions and put countless Portlanders exercising their First Amendment rights in greater danger.”
Advocates both in and out of Portland are calling the president’s occupation of the city and the ensuing violence “unconstitutional,” and are vowing to fight it.
“Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping — what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the U.S.,” Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said in a statement. “These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”
In a series of tweets denouncing Trump and the deployment of unnamed officers in Portland, the ACLU wrote, “We won't rest until these federal officers are gone.”