26 July, 2020

Portland As I See It

The fact that some protesters cross the line from protected First Amendment activity to unlawful destruction is undisputed, as is the federal government’s authority to take reasonable measures to defend the courthouse. The legality of the responses actually chosen is open to numerous challenges. As Steve Vladeck explains at the Lawfare blog, questions remain as to exactly which laws are being enforced, why federal officers have made arrests away from the courthouse, why officers are not clearly identified, and why Homeland Security rather than the Department of Justice is leading the effort. The state of Oregon has filed suit against the government, so these questions may eventually be sorted out in court.
The question of whether the federal response is wise and humane, however, can assuredly be answered in the negative. Footage from recent nights of protests includes the beating of a 53-year-old Navy veteran, the teargassing of moms, and the shooting of a peaceful protester in the head with a rubber bullet, leaving him in need of reconstructive surgery.
It’s also abundantly obvious that if the aim of a federal show of force was to dispel the protests, the plan has backfired miserably. The numbers of protesters had dwindled substantially in recent weeks, but reports of heavily armed, unidentified, camouflaged federal officers abducting people off the street into unmarked vehicles and meting out violence on the people of Portland have thoroughly re-energized the populace. The ranks of hardened protesters are now supplemented by thousands of fresh faces, many of them difficult to believably portray as “anarchists” that “hate our country,” as the president described them on Monday.