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Federal forces in Portland have legal standing, but break with precedent

Local authorities usually request federal assistance
Posted at 8:46 AM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-01 10:42:01-04

COMPTON, Calif. – Dr. Keith Claybrook says he'll never forget the way he felt when a national guardsman was stationed near his backyard in Compton During the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The uprising happened after a jury acquitted four L.A. police officers in the caught-on-camera beating of Rodney King, a Black man.

“I have vivid memories of a national guardsman being posted on the roof. Here’s a national guardsman, looking over the side of a building, automatic weapon in hand, as far as I’m concerned, 13 years old, staring at my dad and I. Why are you standing on this roof looking at a man and his son doing lawn maintenance?” asked Claybrook.

Shades of ’92 -- that’s all Keith says he sees this year, especially in Portland.

“In my experiences, and in my studies, and in my conversation with other people, the presence of law enforcement in general, and the presence of other, you know the national guard, forces like that, it doesn’t do anything but escalate the situation," said Claybrook.

Federal forces have been used in the past on U.S. soil for a variety of reasons.

We found more than 10 examples in the last 100 years. From dispersing protesters after World War I in Washington D.C., to integrating schools in the south in 1950s and ‘60s, to the Los Angeles Riots in 1992.

"It is rare, and it's usually used in extraordinary circumstances," said Kevin Baron, the founder of Defense One, an online publication focusing on national security, foreign policy and the U.S. military.

He says there are some big differences between what happened in Portland, and what happened in some of these other instances.

"At least in L.A., for example, the U.S. soldiers and National Guard were asked to come in and bring peace and deter further rioting and violence that was happening," said Barron.

In the case of Portland, the mayor, and the governor of Oregon have been on record several times saying they did not want federal law enforcement involved.

“No one knew who these people were originally. Right? It was these, people who suddenly arrived dressed in camouflage, military uniforms, with very little markings indicating who they are,” said Ian Farrell, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

His main focus teaching is constitutional and criminal law. He says while people were confused at first, there was legal basis for the officers to be in Portland.

"There is a section of the U.S. federal code that authorizes homeland security, get employees of homeland security and have them protect federal property and the people on federal property," said Farrell.

There are other things about what happened in Portland that stand out as well.

“They seem to be essentially abducting people off the streets,” said Farrell.

"The image of them as militarized, wearing combat fatigues, without insignia using rental cars and unmarked vehicles," said Barron.

“Individuals walking on the streets and a minivan would pull up and these camouflaged, officers, as it turned out, would just grab them and put them in the minivan and drive off,” said Farrell.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said in a statement its agents did in fact pick up protesters in vans, but did so for the safety of everyone.

As of July 31, federal law enforcement had arrested at least 25 protestors in Portland.

Claybrook says while they are differences between Portland in 2020 and L.A. in 1992, it’s the similarities that stick out to him.

“I’m still questioning what law of the land is being enforced in 2020. I don’t know, to bring in that level of policing,” said Claybrook.