Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" that he and other Oregon officials have demanded that federal officers be removed from the city. That follows recent incidents in which officers swept protesters into unmarked vehicles, and shot a protester in the head on July 14 with a less-than-lethal munition.
Wheeler said the only response he received was from the interim Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli.
"He basically told us to stuff it," Wheeler said. "The problem we’re experiencing here is we have an already heightened situation, it’s already tense, but after nearly five weeks of demonstrations, we were starting to see that small handful of people who were engaging in criminal activity, it was dissipating, it was calming down. We believed a week ago it would be over by this weekend. But what happened instead was the feds stepped in with a very heavy-handed approach, and it blew the lid off the whole thing.”
Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told NPR Friday
that Portland was restricting law enforcement from using effective crowd control.
Related: Federal Officers Shoot Portland Protester In Head With 'Less Lethal' Munitions
“For instance, they don't allow them to utilize certain nonlethal tactics,” Cuccinelli said.
Wheeler dismissed the criticism.
“It’s the kind of escalating rhetoric we’ve seen from Donald Trump and the White House. He sent in the troops despite the fact that the governor, our two U.S. senators, myself as mayor and others saying we don’t need them and we don’t want them.”
Wheeler noted that it is not clear to Portlanders who the different uniformed officers are:
“My residents don’t know who a federal officer is, or a local police officer or a county deputy or a state patroller. They don’t know and they don’t care. It’s all the same to them. On Friday night, after the federal police starting gassing people about 300 people came to my house and wanted to know why I allowed our police officers to gas people, which of course I didn’t and they didn’t. But it’s a distinction without a difference in the eyes of the public, and I believe the president and his people know that.”
Wheeler conceded that city police officers are also facing criticism for their conduct during the weeks of protests.
“There’s no question in nearly seven weeks of nightly demonstrations, the police have done many things right, and they’ve done some things wrong. But the difference between local and federal law enforcement is that we have clear policies, clear directives, we have a complaint process, we have an independent accountability and review system," he said.
"With the federal government, they won’t even identify who they are. We don’t know why they’re here, we don’t know the circumstances under which they’re making arrests, we don’t what their policies are or what accountability mechanisms there are, to the point where even the U.S. attorney here in the state of Oregon is asking for an investigation, wondering where was the probable cause to pull these people off the streets into unmarked cars.”
Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Cuccinelli told NPR that the federal government uses its forces in other American cities where protests become unruly at federal sites. “This is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we're responsible for around the country.”
Wheeler said he had communicated with other mayors about federal law enforcement in their cities. He called the federal presence a political move.
“It appears to be a blatant abuse of police authority by the Trump administration. As best as I can tell, this is a last-gasp effort by a failed president with sagging polling data who’s trying to look strong for his base. So he’s actually using the federal police function in support of his candidacy.”