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Oregon Governor Says Federal Presence Is Done, DHS Says Not So Fast

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Oregon Governor Says Federal Presence Is Done, DHS Says Not So Fast

2020-07-30 13:34:43

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Kate Brown (Image source: Public domain)

Federal agents were sent to Portland, Oregon, to help protect the federal courthouse from protesters. They only seemed to cause more of a fracas, though. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced on Wednesday that the federal law enforcement would begin leaving the area on Thursday, but the Department of Homeland Security doesn't seem willing to leave, at least not right away, and that's where the confusion exists.

Brown said the agents would be leaving the downtown area on Thursday and the city not too much later. Acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf, though, said the question was whether there would be a withdrawal, not when. He explained the federal officials would be easing their presence in Portland "should circumstances on the ground significantly improve, as state troopers begin protecting the courthouse."

There have been intense conflicts between the protesters and the federal agents, and the use of force by the federal troops has been questioned by local officials and two federal inspectors general.

But the conflict had already started to ease some in front of the courthouse. The crowds had become smaller, and the federal law enforcement didn't seem as aggressive.

Once the news got around that Brown was negotiating to end the presence of the federal troops, a protester jumped on a microphone and said, "We've got some news," adding, "Governor Kate Brown is getting the feds out of Oregon!" This brought cheers from the crowd.

The protest organizers, however, said the federal agents pulling out is not going to end the protests. The federal agents were only fighting people — they weren't doing anything to solve the issue behind the protest: racism and violence by the Portland Police Bureau.

"These protests were never about Donald Trump, so the feds could leave tomorrow, and the protests would continue. National media could leave tomorrow, and the protests would continue. And that won't stop until there's massive changes to the PPB," said 27-year-old community organizer Gregory McKelvey.

In the past, the Portland police had employed use of force, so the federal officers leaving didn't seem to be much of an improvement. "It's like there's this public fight between federal and local leaders over who gets to gas and beat us," he said.

"The feds' gas is a little spicier, but honestly, does it really matter if you're getting tear-gassed by the feds or tear-gassed by Portland police: the result is the same."

Federal agents from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will leave their posts in front of the courthouse on Thursday. The DHS agency, the Federal Protective Service, will stay at the courthouse and be supported by the Marshals Service, according to Wolf. State police will work alongside them.

State and federal officials have different understandings of the agreement. Wolf said there wasn't a guarantee that federal officers would leave Portland, contradicting Brown. The forces that have been on the frontlines throughout will remain on the streets until Donald Trump tells them to exit.

"Our entire law enforcement presence that is currently in Portland yesterday and in previous weeks will remain in Portland until we are assured the courthouse and other federal facilities will no longer be attacked nightly and set afire," said Wolf.

"We will continue to reevaluate our force posture over time, as we do at every other facility around the country, and we will surge up and surge down, depending on circumstances on the ground," he added.

Wolf blamed local officials for not doing more to protect the courthouse, though Oregon officials have said it was the aggressive actions of the federal agents that incited the protests.

"No other city in the country has refused to work with federal law enforcement like Portland has," insisted Wolf. "I'm glad that they are finally seeing the errors of their ways and stepping up and doing what they should have been doing for the past 60 days, and that is partnering with federal law enforcement to do their job."

In Brown's announcement, she said that the "federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability and brought violence and strife to our community." 

Wednesday Trump tweeted that if federal agents hadn't gone there, "there would be no Portland — it would be burned and beaten to the ground." He also threatened that the federal authorities could still return.

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