Thousands of people joined another night of Black Lives Matter protests on the streets of Portland, hours after a US judge denied the state of Oregon’s request to restrict federal police in the city.
Demonstrators, most wearing masks and many donning helmets, stood near the fountain on Salmon Street Springs. They then marched to the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and the federal agents there.
They chanted and clapped along to the sound of thunderous drums, pausing to listen to speakers. Various organised groups took part, including Healthcare Workers Protest, Teachers against Tyrants, Lawyers for Black Lives and the ‘Wall of Moms’.
“Feds go home”
By 9.40pm on Friday 24 July, crowds of people, pressed shoulder to shoulder, packed the streets chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Feds go home”. They carried signs as they marched to the courthouse.
The federal agents, deployed by Donald Trump, have arrested dozens during nightly Black Lives Matter protests.
Democratic leaders in Oregon say federal intervention has worsened the two-month crisis. And the state attorney general sued to allege some people had been whisked off the streets in unmarked vehicles.
But US District Judge Michael Mosman said the state lacked standing to sue on behalf of protesters. He said this was because the legal action was a “highly unusual one with a particular set of rules”.
A crisis over the limits of federal power
Oregon was seeking a restraining order on behalf of its residents. This was not for injuries that had already happened, but to prevent injuries by federal officers in the future. That combination makes the standard for granting such a motion very narrow, and the state did not prove it had standing in the case, Mosman wrote.
The clashes in Portland have further inflamed the nation’s political tensions and triggered a crisis over the limits of federal power. It comes as Trump moves to send US officers to other Democratic-led cities, ostensibly to combat crime.
Protesters in Portland have been targeting the federal courthouse. They’re reported to have started fires outside and vandalised the building that US authorities say they have a duty to protect. Federal agents have used tear gas as well as other force to scatter protesters. They’ve also used ammunition that left one person critically injured.
The legal action from Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum accused federal agents of arresting protesters without probable cause and using excessive force. She sought a temporary restraining order to “immediately stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians”.
David Morrell, a lawyer for the US government, called the motion “extraordinary”. He told the judge in a hearing this week that it was based solely on “a few threadbare declarations” from witnesses and a Twitter video.
Rosenblum said the ramifications of the judge’s ruling were “extremely troubling”. She added:
While I respect Judge Mosman, I would ask this question: If the state of Oregon does not have standing to prevent this unconstitutional conduct by unidentified federal agents running roughshod over her citizens, who does?
Federal agents exacerbating a tense situation
Before the federal intervention, mayor Ted Wheeler and other local leaders had said a small cadre of violent activists were drowning out the message of peaceful protesters. But the Democrat, who was tear-gassed this week as he joined protesters, says the federal presence is exacerbating a tense situation. He also said that he has repeatedly told them to leave.
Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf denied federal agents are inflaming the situation in Portland. He said Wheeler legitimised criminality by joining demonstrators, whom Trump has called “anarchists and agitators”.
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