Federal Presence In Portland Gives Protests Momentum

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Mardy Widman has watched protests against racial injustice unfold in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, for more than seven weeks but stayed away because, at age 79, she feared contracting the coronavirus.

But that calculus changed for Widman when President Donald Trump sent federal law enforcement agents to the liberal city to quell violent demonstrations that he said were fueled by “anarchists and agitators.” On Monday, a masked Widman was in the street with more than 1,000 other Portlanders facing down the agents — a far larger crowd than the city had seen in recent days, as it entered its eighth week of nightly protests.

“It’s like a dictatorship,” Widman, a grandmother of five, said of Trump. She held up a sign that read: “Grammy says: Please feds, leave Portland.”

“I mean, that he can pick on our city mostly because of the way we vote and make an example of it for his base is very frightening,” she said.

Far from tamping down the unrest, the presence of federal agents on the streets of Portland — and particularly allegations they have whisked people away in unmarked cars without probable cause — has given new momentum and a renewed, laser-sharp focus to protests that had begun to devolve into smaller, chaotic crowds. The use of federal agents against the will of local officials has also set up the potential for a constitutional crisis — and one that could escalate as Trump says he plans to send federal agents to other cities.

Federal forces were deployed to Portland in early July, and tensions have grown since then: first, on July 11, when a protester was hospitalized with critical injuries after a U.S. Marshals Service officer struck him in the head with a round of what’s known as less-lethal ammunition. Then, anger flared again over the weekend after video surfaced of a federal agent hitting a U.S. Navy veteran repeatedly with a baton while another agent sprays him in the face with pepper spray.

Crowds had recently numbered fewer than 100 people but swelled to more than 1,000 over the weekend — and they are once again attracting a broader base in a city that’s increasingly unified and outraged.

Federal agents again used force to scatter protesters early Tuesday and deployed smoke bombs and rubber bullets as some in the crowd banged on the doors of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse and attempted to pull plywood off the shuttered entryway.

By GILLIAN FLACCUS - July 21. 2020 - 3:24 PM ET

AP

 
 

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