Trump’s use of federal forces to crack down on protesters has drawn outrage and led to an upswell of new protests in cities across the country.
For much of July, the protests following the police killing of George Floyd had waned, attracting hundreds of people instead of thousands. But federal law enforcement officials’ violent and potentially unconstitutional crackdown on protesters in Portland has reignited the fuse, leading to a fresh wave of large, tense, and at times unruly protests across the country this past weekend.
From Aurora to Austin and Seattle to Louisville, protesters filled the streets, expressing anger over President Donald Trump’s deployment of federal officers to Portland and a growing number of cities across the country.
Trump claims he deployed those forces, which include officers from the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security, to protect a federal building from protesters who had at times engaged in vandalism. But those officials, who are there against the will of state and local leaders, have often escalated matters, throwing flash bang grenades and deploying tear gas at protesters, fracturing the skull of an unarmed demonstrator, and detaining others by throwing them in the back of unmarked vans.
The latter, which was captured on video and has been viewed more than 10 million times, prompted comparisons to the Gestapo and secret police, sparked numerous lawsuits against the federal government, and triggered outrage across the country.
In Portland, protests have swelled and led to the creation of the “Wall of Moms” and “Wall of Vets,” which has seen mothers and veterans link arms to protect Black Lives Matter demonstrators from federal forces who have frequently used aggressive tactics.
Things have grown similarly tense in Seattle, where 47 protesters were arrested on Saturday following scattered incidents of vandalism, violence, and clashes with law enforcement.
“There is no question that the actions in Portland have escalated things, not just in Seattle, but nationwide,” Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan told the New York Times. Durkan has been among those to criticize Trump’s use of federal agents in American cities, calling it “very dangerous.”
One Demonstrator Died
In Austin, things took a deadly turn on Saturday when 28-year-old Garrett Foster was shot and killed during a protest. Foster was pushing his fiancee in her wheelchair when a driver laid on his horn and sped toward the crowd of marchers. Foster was armed with a rifle—a common occurrence in Texas due to its lax open carry gun laws—and as he approached the driver side window, the motorist opened fire, shooting Foster three times. The driver fled the scene and Foster was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Austin police said on Sunday they had interviewed the driver, who turned himself in after leaving the scene. The man had a license for his handgun and claims he fired after Foster raised his weapon, but witnesses told a different story.
“He was not aiming the gun or doing anything aggressive with the gun,” Michael Capochiano, a witness, told the New York Times. “I’m not sure if there was much of an exchange of words. It wasn’t like there was any sort of verbal altercations. He wasn’t charging at the car.”
The police declined to identify the driver and released him from custody as they continued to investigate. “We are heartbroken over the loss of Mr. Foster last night,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters. “It is actively being investigated and ongoing in conjunction with the Travis County district attorney’s office.”
Foster, who served in the military, was a regular at protests, along with his fiancee, a Black woman who is a quadruple amputee.
“He was doing it because he feels really strongly about justice and he’s very heavily against police brutality, and he wanted to support his fiancee,” Foster’s mother, Sheila Foster, told “Good Morning America Weekend” on Sunday.
A Referendum on ‘Law and Order’
Protests also occurred in cities in Colorado, California, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia, with protesters and law enforcement clashing in several cities.
Collectively, the weekend marked the most contentious and widespread protests in over a month and spurred fears of further federal aggression from a president seemingly hellbent on turning the 2020 election into a referendum on “law and order.” As part of that effort, Trump has deployed federal law enforcement officers to Albuquerque, Chicago, Kansas City, and Seattle in recent weeks and has announced plans to send additional federal forces to Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that the Trump administration might also send another 50 Customs and Border Protection agents to Portland.
Those efforts continue to come against the will of city leaders, six of whom on Monday called on Congress to make it illegal for the federal government to deploy armed federal agents to cities that don’t want them.
“This administration’s egregious use of federal force on cities over the objections of local authorities should never happen,” the mayors of Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City, Albuquerque, and Washington, D.C., wrote in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate.
Trump appears unlikely to back down, as his campaign has portrayed cities as spiraling out of control and full of violence. He’s also spent $26 million on television ads to strengthen his argument that a Biden presidency would lead to chaos and unrest, even as the ongoing turmoil has occurred under his watch and has been stoked by his own federal forces.
Lawmakers and former government officials believe Trump’s heavy-handed—if not illegal—deployment of forces into American cities represents a desperate election year gambit to distract the nation from his failed response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 146,000 Americans and infected more than 4.2 million people. This dark pivot in strategy comes as a broad majority of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
Consequently, the president has found himself trailing his opponent, Joe Biden, by as many as 15 points in national polls, and by seven or more points in nearly every swing state.
Biden has been among those to criticize Trump’s tactics, which he called “egregious.”
“We have a president who is determined to sow chaos and division. To make matters worse instead of better,” Biden said last week. The former vice president also contrasted Trump’s dark approach with a unifying message.
“Our nation is at a crossroads,” he wrote in a tweet on Friday. “We can choose four more years of Donald Trump’s divisive politics and failed leadership — or we can forge a new path forward.”
The divide between the two candidates became even more clear over the weekend as Trump’s forces clashed with protesters, the president claimed the “wall of moms” was a “scam,” and said that protesters in Portland “hate our country.”
Those protesters on Sunday gathered for a 60th straight night of action. On Monday, they will come together once again, and if this weekend was any indication, they are likely to be joined by people in cities across the nation.