In Portland, Oregon, there is growing concern over the prevalence of federal authorities in drab green “police” outfits that are spilling out of unmarked vans. These authorities have detained many peaceful protesters for hours, asking them questions and then dumping them back on the street. Legal scholars have raised the alarm over these “arrests,” noting that they may not be constitutional.
Arrests require probable cause, and the people being arrested need to be told what they’re being detained for. Moreover, they’re to be read their Miranda rights.
It seems in many cases, these mystery federal police agents are providing none of these, or, if they are, they’re foregoing others. Most chillingly, protesters arrested by these authorities don’t even know what agency detained them.
Why This Matters
Government agents, no matter their authority, are public servants. They’re bound by federal laws, the Constitution, and, most of all, derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed. When unmarked vans filled with mystery men begin arresting peaceful protesters, one is reminded of totalitarian governments.
It’s easy to say “that can’t happen here!” and ignore these tales. However, it can, and will, unless watchdog organizations get involved and tell the government that they’re paying attention. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has decried the authorities, which are presumed to be Department of Homeland Security.
Who Are These Authorities?
These “police” are likely federal agents who work for the Department of Homeland Security or the US Marshal’s service. Their appearance in Portland is likely tied to President Donald Trump’s promised “law and order” response to Black Lives Matter protests in the US. Senator Wyden took to Twitter to call the president’s agents out in a public forum.
“A peaceful protester in Portland was shot in the head by one of Donald Trump’s secret police.” Wyden wrote, referencing a protester who was badly injured by the authorities. “Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”
Testing the Waters?
Activists have warned that this is likely the Trump Administration stretching the limits of what the Executive Branch can get away with. Some have described Portland as a test case, seeing what actions will draw the attention of watchdog agencies and the public.
Should the authorities be shown to effectively intimidate protesters and break up civic engagement, it’s possible that they could become commonplace.