WASHINGTON (AFP) – U.S. federal officers will stay in the protest-wracked city of Portland until local law enforcement officials finish a "cleanup of anarchists and agitators,” President Donald Trump said.
The forces -- whose deployment was seen by many as part of the president’s law-and-order strategy for re-election and exacerbated tensions between authorities and anti-racism protestors -- had been scheduled to begin their phased pullout from Portland on Thursday.
Trump tweeted late Friday: "Homeland Security is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!”
Hundreds of demonstrators were still on the streets of downtown Portland on Saturday morning, without any federal law enforcement in sight.
Earlier this month the Trump administration sent federal tactical teams, many wearing combat-like gear, to intervene in the city after weeks of protests against racism and police brutality saw windows broken and graffiti scrawled on the federal courthouse and other buildings.
But their deployment inflamed the situation, especially following footage of protesters being snatched off the street by federal agents and put into unmarked cars.
Democrats said the intervention reeked of a "police state” and that it was a political move to show Trump -- who is struggling in the polls ahead of November’s presidential election -- to voters as a strict law-and-order president.
Attorney General Bill Barr has defended the use of federal officers, and rejected any suggestion of the political motivation.
"In the wake of George Floyd’s death, violent rioters and anarchists
have hijacked legitimate protests to wreak senseless havoc and destruction on innocent victims,” Barr said in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.
Under an agreement between Oregon officials and the Trump administration on Wednesday, the federal forces were to begin withdrawing from the city on Thursday.
However, on Thursday Trump reiterated the need for federal intervention.
"The governor and the mayor, we’ve been dealing with them, and we think they don’t know what they’re doing, because this should not have been going on for 60 days,” he told reporters.
"It’s not our job to go in and clean out the cities. That’s supposed to be done by local law enforcement,” Trump added.
Despite Trump’s assertions that protesters in Portland are dangerous "anarchists” and "agitators” who "hate our country,” a new analysis of arrest records by the Associated Press showed the vast majority were local residents without criminal records.
Many were Black Lives Matter activists who have been on the streets protesting since George Floyd’s death in May.
Others were marching with the headline-dominating Wall of Moms and Wall of Dads when they were arrested.
According to the AP, 95% of those arrested by police or federal agents were local to Portland and the vast majority had no criminal record in the state.
The average age of those arrested was 28, and many appeared to be college students.
Most were charged with misdemeanors for failing to comply with lawful order, however, some face felonies for arson or assault on an officer—the analysis shows the arrival of federal officers drew an increased number of black-clad provocateurs.
According to court records, the majority of the people charged with more serious offenses are white, and some have committed crimes prior.