House Dems Call for Investigation Into Feds' Use of Force at Protests, Citing Portland

Three House committee chairpersons penned a letter Sunday to the inspector generals of the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, urging them to investigate federal troops using force against protesters in Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, and other communities across the country.

The three Democratic lawmakers—Jerrold Nadler (House Judiciary), Bennie G. Thompson (House Homeland Security), and Carolyn B. Maloney (House Oversight and Reform)—said this is a "matter of utmost urgency."

"The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appear to have increasingly abused emergency authorities to justify the use of force against Americans exercising their right to peaceful assembly," they stated in their letter.

Saturday night in Portland marked the 52nd consecutive day of protests against police brutality and systemic racism. The House Democrats cited the Portland protests several times in their letter, and they said Homeland Security and the DOJ have "abused" their own authority.

Portland Protests
Police officers remove fencing that block the doors of the Multnomah County Justice Center during a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, on July 17, 2020. - Rights activists and lawmakers expressed outrage on June 17, 2020, over reports that federal agents circulating in unmarked cars in the western US state of Oregon were grabbing and detaining protesters off the streets. Photo by ANKUR DHOLAKIA/AFP via Getty Images

The letter went on to describe protests that sprung up around the country after the police-involved death of George Floyd on May 25. As now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for several minutes, the last words heard coming from Floyd were "I can't breathe."

The chairpersons said that U.S. Attorney General William Barr "does not have unfettered authority' to send in federal law enforcement authorities to "arrest and detain American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights."

"The Administration's insistence on deploying these forces over the objections of state and local authorities suggest that these tactics have little to do with public safety, but more to do with political gamesmanship," the letter stated.

President Donald Trump has stated the assemblies, or protests and demonstrations, haven't always been peaceful, and that the federal government would provide security in places where he thought it was needed. On Sunday, the president defended federal troops in Portland.

"We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it," Trump tweeted. "Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!"

We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it. Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2020

An NPR report on Sunday described a scene Saturday night in Portland where a group of demonstrators gathered outside of the Portland Police Association (PPA) building. After some chanting, they allegedly broke into the building and set the police union headquarters on fire. The fire was extinguished shortly after it began, Portland police said.

PPA on fire. Riot declared. Sirens coming from the west. Crowd moving East. Hearing some kind of shots. pic.twitter.com/mzn594pPBa

— Tuck Woodstock (@tuckwoodstock) July 19, 2020

Video footage shared on social media shows authorities dressed in riot gear appearing to hit a man with a baton and then spray him.

Federal police strike protester with baton, use pepper spray and tear gas outside courthouse in Portland pic.twitter.com/VX2xTVaaYq

— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) July 19, 2020

Aside from setting the police station on fire, protesters tore down a fence that surrounded the federal courthouse. The fence was erected earlier in the day, but demonstrators dismantled it and stacked the pieces against the side of the courthouse.

In addition to a "use of force" investigation, the House chairpersons also asked the inspector generals of the DOJ and DHS to investigate the training of the deployed police forces.

"We ask that also review the use of force, crowd control, and civil rights training these forces received prior to their deployments," the letter read.

Newsweek reached out to both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security for comment.