Washington, DC – The pushback against Trump administration policies on federal law enforcement deployment and tactics continued to play out this week, with
80 criminal justice leaders – including eight Attorneys General and twelve current or former Police Chiefs and Sheriffs – filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia objecting to federal law enforcement deployment and tactics in Portland, Oregon.
The brief, signed by current and former elected prosecutors, AG’s and other law enforcement leaders, notes the vitally important role of local law enforcement and criminal justice leaders in guiding the appropriate response to community unrest, and the more attenuated connection to those communities of federal authorities whose ongoing presence is contrary to the wishes of local leaders.
The signers argue, “that the actions of federal law enforcement in Portland, Oregon –as well as similar deployments or threatened federal engagement in other urban areas in the country –undermine these vital law enforcement objectives. The deeply concerning and violent actions of federal agents against peaceful protesters have damaged already-fragile bonds of trust with law enforcement. This type of aggressive and unwelcome federal law enforcement intervention hinders the ability of local law enforcement and local prosecutors to keep their communities safe.”
“As people have taken to the streets to exercise their fundamental right to protest and advocate for a fair and equitable justice system, the federal government’s deployment of federal agents into American cities has fueled distrust, fear and further unrest in communities,” said Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution, the organization that coordinated the brief.
She continued, “Images of federal officers gassing, beating and rounding up peaceful protesters, while wearing no badges or name tags and driving unmarked vehicles, is at odds with the system of justice our nation can and should stand for. These acts are not only unconstitutional, they are also counterproductive, damaging to community trust, and pose a substantial threat to public safetyin Portland and across the nation.”
In the brief, amici point to the inextricable link between public trust and public safety, noting that community trust relies on people seeing the criminal justice system as legitimate, which requires law enforcement to demonstrate a commitment to fair and equitable policing.
Yet, decades of police brutality and racially biased outcomes have eroded trust in law enforcement, especially in Black communities and other communities of color, and “fanning the flames of distrust by responding with a show of force – rather than with understanding, dialogue, and de-escalation – will do lasting damage to the entire justice system.”
“At a time of unrest and uncertainty, local law enforcement and criminal justice leaders should be focused on restoring community trust in the justice system by investing in relationship building with the communities we are sworn to protect,” said Ronald L. Davis, former Director of the COPS Office and former Chief of the East Palo Alto, California Police Department, a signatory to the brief. While federal troops may have temporarily – and only in part – left Portland, the brief notes that the ongoing threat of federal intervention “looms over the community” and will “exacerbate tensions… in places where emotions are already running dangerously high.”
“We cannot do this critical work if the federal government is forcefully entering American cities uninvited and violating the constitutional rights of nonviolent peaceful protesters with no accountability. Even just the threat of such action is damaging to public trust and safety,” said Channing Phillips, former U.S. Attorney and former Counsel to the Attorney General of the United States, and another signatory to the brief.
Amici also argue that they “have a responsibility to criminally prosecute federal law enforcement agents where the evidence shows that the actors engaged in activities that caused harm to residents amici are sworn to protect – whether that harm is in the form of excessive use of force, illegal detention or arrest, or other violations of rights.” But doing so is challenging when federal agents fail to wear identification and it is difficult to determine to whom they report or are accountable.
“My primary responsibility as a prosecutor is to advance public safety in my community, and the federal government’s interference with local law enforcement and infringement on Americans’ constitutional rights put public safety at risk,” said Multnomah County, Oregon District Attorney Mike Schmidt. “We’re at a critical juncture where law enforcement must heal divisions within their communities. The egregious actions seen in Portland – as well as other cities across the country – undermine these efforts and further threaten our ability to enact meaningful reform.”
Read the brief here.
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