A man is approached on the street by officers wearing camouflage uniforms without identifying insignia, who hustle him into an unmarked van and whisk him away. The officers pull his hat down over his eyes so he can’t see where they’re going, and upon arrival at an unidentified facility they search his belongings and put him in a cell.
The frightened man is never advised of any charges against him or a basis for his detention. After he demands a lawyer he is released, without any citation or paperwork explaining what happened.
Did this happen in Iran? North Korea? Russia? China?
No, it’s happening in Portland, Ore., in the age of Donald Trump. And if that’s not bad enough, President Trump announced Wednesday that he wants it to happen in more American cities, as he seeks to show he is the tough leader who stands for “law and order.”
Clearly, the president hopes this show of force will boost his flagging reelection campaign and divert attention from his abysmal mismanagement of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. And once again, our reality-TV president is staging political theater without regard to the Constitution or our laws.
In his announcement Wednesday, Trump said he has ordered major federal law enforcement deployments to Chicago, Kansas City, Mo., and other “Democrat-run cities”— an explicit acknowledgment of his political motivation.
Jacksonville, Fla. and Fort Worth, Texas — cities with Republican mayors and rising homicide rates — don’t seem to be targeted.
This latest example of Trump’s politicization of law enforcement is among the most un-American acts the Trump administration has committed so far — and that’s saying a lot.
Reports of such tactics in Portland have appalled the nation, and the Trump administration’s repeated lies offered as explanations simply do not pass muster. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf’s assertion that his agents had to “proactively arrest individuals” in Portland is particularly chilling.
What happened in Portland was not just an instance of federal officers protecting federal property, such as a courthouse. Videos show unidentified federal officers patrolling the city’s downtown area in unmarked rental vehicles, abducting people off the streets without explanation, without reading anyone their Miranda rights telling them that what they say can be held against them, and without any probable cause.
These arrests are inherently unconstitutional. Make no mistake: By clear legal precedent, these are arrests, even if the victims are later released without charges. These people aren’t being given the option to refuse questioning, or to walk away. They’re being wordlessly seized, forced into vehicles, and searched and questioned without warrants.
Nothing that has happened in Portland justifies this federal impingement upon local and state law enforcement powers. Nothing that has happened in other cities justifies expanding these unlawful police-state tactics elsewhere.
Portland’s elected officials have rightfully objected to these tactics in no uncertain terms. The Trump administration’s refusal to abide by their wishes speaks volumes about the illicit nature of what’s happening.
This latest example of Trump’s politicization of law enforcement is among the most un-American acts the Trump administration has committed so far.
The truth is that Portland’s protests — originally sparked by systemic racism in law enforcement — were ebbing until President Trump gave protesters this new cause to rally against. The president is actually throwing gasoline on the fire, not extinguishing it.
It’s particularly poignant given the “Wall of Moms” movement that these jackboot tactics have inspired in Portland and other cities, with rows of self-identified mothers standing with linked arms between armed federal agents and demonstrators.
President Trump claims that he’s working with the attorney general and others to “straighten things out.” But the president is making no effort to work with the most important stakeholders: local and state elected officials, many of whom do not want this federal interference. Instead of working with mayors and governors as partners, he is treating them like adversaries.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told The New York Times he first learned about the deployment to his city on Twitter. The mayor said that while he welcomes help in solving crimes, he worries the heightened federal presence may be exploited for political purposes.
But that seems to be Trump’s goal, as these blatant violations of basic constitutional rights appear to be little more than political theater and a cheap campaign ploy. The Trump campaign is spending millions of dollars on ads presenting a darker-than-reality view of recent protests, attempting to prop up its phony “law and order” narrative and pretending that things will worsen under a Democratic administration.
It seems the Portland tactics are meant to demonstrate Trump’s effort to “get tough on crime”— a laughable narrative, given that his own administration has been a hotbed of crime and corruption.
This baseless aggression cannot go unchecked. The Trump administration must immediately identify the specific agencies, departments, and units under the Justice and Homeland Security Departments — as well as any private contractors or other entities — that it has deployed in Portland and plans to deploy elsewhere.
In addition, the Trump administration must specify each unit’s mission and explain how that mission is legally justified, especially in situations where federal officers are patrolling away from federal facilities and property. And it must explicitly explain its justification for arresting people who aren’t near or imminent threats to federal facilities and property.
We also must have a headcount of how many people already have been detained by federal officers in Portland, including a breakdown of how many were charged with federal offenses and how many were released without any charges at all.
Congress funds these departments, and we should leverage the power of the purse to ensure we’re not funding the president’s political storm troopers. Federal law enforcement officers are paid by taxpayers to protect us — not to protect the political interests of whoever happens to be president.
Perhaps there is some corner of the president’s political base that isn’t shocked by these secret-police abuses, some group of Trump followers who believe it’s acceptable to ignore the Constitution if it means striking back against “the libs” or “Antifa” or whatever bogeyman they imagine is being targeted.
Yet the Republican Party, which purports to advocate for states’ rights and a limited federal government, certainly shouldn’t support a federal police force occupying American cities uninvited and unwanted by local authorities. Will my Republican colleagues stand for their party’s actual convictions and for the Constitution, or will they blindly obey Trump no matter what he does?
No American can just shrug off these abuses because they’re happening to people with different political views. Government must not be allowed to choose which political views can be targeted, lest our nation become exactly the kind of authoritarian police state that America has opposed in centuries past.
For the Constitution to mean anything to anyone, it must mean the same thing for everyone.