The wait is over in Portland. Seattle, too. Albuquerque, Chicago and Kansas City are in the cue. At the moment, no one in Denver---or a number of other cities, for that matter---knows for certain if, like the Pacific Northwest’s hub cities, unnamed, unmarked federal troops will soon occupy their streets. But, with a nation in the middle of a very hot and angry summer and a very unpredictable and unorthodox President Trump calling the shots, the nation might do well to be prepared.
A quick recap. Protestors in Portland have been in the streets for more than two months. The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May ignited rioting not only there but in Denver and a number of the country’s largest cities. Other killings, many directly or indirectly attributed to police---including that of Aurora resident Elijah McClain---have also fueled the rage. To deal with the chaos, the President ordered in scores of unnamed, unbadged, highly militarized federal troops ostensibly to protect federal buildings. They’ve done more than that.
“If what the officers are doing is solely protecting government property, then it would be lawful,” said the University of Denver Sturm College of Law’s Professor Ian Farrell. But, as nightly video shows, these forces are doing so much more, including firing tear gas projectiles, rubber bullets, assaulting citizens, driving unmarked vans and removing people from the streets and whisking them away to unknown locations. “The accounts we have show these paramilitary officers roaming the streets,” said Farrell. “It seems wholly disconnected.” If protecting government property was, in fact, their actual charge, said Farrell, all you would need to do is “stand around the courthouse.”
A precursor to the Portland show of force occurred in early June when, in a Rose Garden ceremony, Trump referred to himself as the “president of law and order,” and hinted that he might be dispatching federal troops across the country to quell protests. Shortly after his pronouncement that day, he had Attorney General Robert Barr assemble a squad of riot-clad forces fire tear gas into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators at Lafayette Square so the President could walk across the street for a photo-op outside Washington’s historic St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible. There was no explanation for the event as the President left without making a statement.
Farrell believes the President’s ordering in of federal troops---thought to be either Customs and Border Patrol or Homeland Security agents---is a violation of the Constitution. Most immediately, he said, whatever Trump thinks of protestors, they do have a First Amendment right to assemble. The D.U. professor also thinks this federal militia also runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment which protects against arbitrary arrests and is the basis of the law regarding search warrants, stop-and-frisk, wiretaps and other forms of surveillance.
Besides the video of the Navy veteran getting beat with nightsticks and pepper sprayed and another of a young man being hit in the face with a cannister, troops have also tear gassed Portland’s Mayor who joined protestors one night last week. They have also done the same with a squad of older women and older men calling themselves “The Wall of Moms,” and “Dads With Leafblowers,” who formed a line directly in front of the mystery force. Along with the Mayor, Oregon’s Governor and Portland’s District Attorney have called on the President to withdraw this federal force and allow Portland and Oregon to handle things on its own.
It remains unknown just where or when the President will next order federal troops. But because protests have been occurring in Denver and Aurora, both cities are aware they could be added to the list. “We have received no notification that Denver is on his list,” said Denver DA Beth McCann. But should that happen, she said, she “stands with Mayor Hancock and others in voicing her strong opposition.” Federal troops who commit criminal acts, she added, will be prosecuted.
“We are unaware of any plans involving Federal Agencies (sic) being sent to Aurora,” said Aurora Police spokesperson Faith Goodrich, adding, it would be premature to “speculate about what our feelings would be.” But over the weekend, protestors were shown on local newscasts smashing windows and setting fires at the Aurora courthouse. Mayor Mike Coffman scheduled a sit-down with police on Monday for a debriefing.
Beyond broken windows, fires and graffiti, weekend protests took a dangerous turn in Aurora when a man steered his vehicle into a crowd that had shut down both directions of Interstate 225 on Saturday evening. They were protesting the death of Elijah McClain. As the vehicle sped up, a protestor fired a gun, taking aim at the vehicle. In all, at least six shots were fired. Two people were wounded. Another suffered a broken leg when falling or jumping from the roadway.
As in previous decisions made by the President on sending federal troops, little to no time is part of the process. If they are to be sent to Colorado, they might already be on their way by the time the official announcement is made.