- President Donald Trump said he had tens of thousands of federal agents available to police major US cities, citing the “fantastic” job he said they’d been doing in Portland, Oregon.
- “I view this as one of, if not the most alarming thing this administration has done,” Barry Friedman, a law professor who is the faculty director of New York University’s Policing Project, told Business Insider.
- “It’s alarming because it is placing what are effectively federal troops in a municipal-policing capacity in violation of the constitutional laws of the United States,” he continued.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump told the Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday that he had tens of thousands of federal agents at the ready to deploy to major US cities — though he said they’d “have to be invited in.”
Barry Friedman, a law professor who is the faculty director of New York University’s Policing Project, which works with communities to ensure police accountability, echoed that point, saying the president needs the consent of the state to send in federal agents.
“The jurisdiction of the federal government is quite limited for domestic policing, and to be doing so aggressively in a jurisdiction where they are not welcomed by local leadership is both inappropriate and unconstitutional,” Friedman told Business Insider.
“I view this as one of — if not the most alarming thing this administration has done,” he continued. “It’s alarming because it is placing what are effectively federal troops in a municipal-policing capacity in violation of the constitutional laws of the United States.”
Federal law-enforcement officers are already present in Portland, Oregon, and Trump announced Wednesday that he planned to deploy a “surge” of agents from the Department of Homeland Security to other US cities, including Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, as part of a plan called Operation Legend.
Citing the events in Portland, however, where federal officers in camouflage have been compared to an occupying military force, state governors and mayors of major US cities have spoken out in anticipation of the agents’ arrival.
“If the Trump administration wishes to antagonize New Mexicans and Americans with authoritarian, unnecessary, and unaccountable military-style ‘crackdowns,’ they have no business whatsoever in New Mexico,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico said.
Still, Trump told Hannity that “we’ll go into all of the cities, any of the cities.”
“We’re ready,” he said. “We’ll put in 50,000, 60,000 people that really know what they’re doing. They’re strong. They’re tough. But as you know, we have to be invited in.”
Reports have linked the generically identified federal agents in Portland to controversial arrests of protesters and civilians with no explanation as to why they were being detained.
Oregon lawmakers have pushed back against the presence of federal forces policing the city, and the Oregon attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits accusing the federal government of violating protesters’ rights while policing the city.
Without a specific invitation from the state or city, the Trump administration has grounded the legal justification of federal law enforcement in Oregon as protecting federal property, which is within their power. Federal agents, however, have been accused of going beyond such duties, making arrests and engaging in other policing well beyond the boundaries of federal monuments and property.
Cristina Rodriguez, a Yale Law School professor specializing in constitutional and administrative law, said it was “highly atypical for federal law enforcement to enter a city or a state where they haven’t been invited by the governor or the mayor,” especially if there hadn’t been a “clear breakdown in the state’s authority or ability to handle whatever might be happening.”
“I think the bigger point in this moment is that, as a matter of practice, federal law enforcement doesn’t come to engage in general policing unless the state government or local government has invited it,” she said, citing the example of the riots sparked by Rodney King’s beating in Los Angeles in 1992.
The National Guard and federal agents were mobilized at the behest of then-Gov. Pete Wilson and then-Mayor Tom Bradley amid civil disturbances, citywide riots, and violence.
“There’s definitely a breach of ordinary practice from what it seems, watching from afar,” Rodriguez said of the escalating situation in Portland.
Similar to the legal situation behind the Los Angeles riots, Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago announced that federal troops would be arriving to try to help the city stem its spiking gun violence. She said the agents would not be engaging with protesters.
“Unlike what happened in Portland, what we will receive is resources that are going to plug in to the existing federal agencies that we work with on a regular basis to help manage and suppress violent crime in our city,” Lightfoot said, according to a report by the local outlet WLS.
“I don’t put anything past this administration, which is why we will continue to be diligent and why we will continue to be ready,” Lightfoot said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “If we need to stop them and use the courts to do so, we are ready to do that.”
Laurence Tribe, a law professor at Harvard Law School, excoriated the motives behind what he described as the “deliberately vague terms” behind deploying federal agents to major US cities.
In an email to Business Insider, Tribe wrote that the situation “would have been utterly unthinkable to those who fought a bloody revolution and founded a republic to preserve the ‘blessings of liberty,’ to those who gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’ to preserve the Union, or to those who sacrificed their lives in two World Wars to keep authoritarian regimes from our shores.”
“To call this astonishing takeover of the streets and spaces for peaceful protest unconstitutional is a dramatic understatement,” Tribe wrote in the email. “And the cynicism of those disguising these moves in the garb of essential peacekeeping, which might well succeed for some time in holding judicial relief at bay, is especially disgusting.”