Unidentified agents are unaccountable

Chris Bird, Managing Editor

Protests have been happening across the country against police misconduct and bias since May 26, the day after the death of George Floyd during an arrest. There have been incidents of violence and escalation from both protestors and police during protests across the nation, but the response from the Federal Government to the protests in Portland, Ore. has drawn a great deal of concern and debate.

Federal agents are known to have been present in Portland since at least June 27, when they were first reported as present in the city. According to a federal lawsuit that was filed by the Oregon Department of Justice on July 18 over alleged civil rights abuses, the agencies that may be operating against protestors are the Department of Homeland Security, United States Customs and Border Protection, the United States Marshals Service, and The Federal Protective Service.

The lawsuit alleges that federal agents have been “using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland, detain protesters, and place them into the officers’ unmarked vehicles, removing them from public without either arresting them or stating the basis for an arrest, since at least Tuesday, July 14.

The federal agents accused of misconduct in this lawsuit are also described as not having any sort of equipment that would allow them to be easily associated with a certain agency or identified as a particular officer. “The identity of the officers is not known, nor is their agency affiliation, according to videos and reports that the officers in question wear military fatigues with patches simply reading “POLICE,” with no other identifying information.”

Many other lawsuits have been filed by protestors, journalists, and organizations in Oregon. These lawsuits accuse the federal government of using excessive force on protestors, overstepping the power of Oregon to police its own residents granted by the Tenth Amendment, and a slew of accusations that the federal agents have violated people’s rights to assembly, speech, petition, due process, etc.

There were some reports of the federal agents having made a deal with the government of Oregon and Portland but looking at recent events and statements by the DHS it is clear that the Federal agents are still present. At least as recently as August 21, the federal agents dispersed a protest near the Multnomah County Justice Center in Oregon. On Aug. 4, the DHS itself made a press release denying the idea that they have recalled federal agents from the state and that “no determination of timetables for reduction of protective forces has yet been made. Evaluations remain ongoing.”

It is the opinion of The Clarion that these Federal agencies are overstepping their purpose, and that the way they are choosing to carry out what they claim is their duty is incredibly troubling.

The Federal agencies that are present, such as the Department of Homeland Security, exist for the purpose of protecting this country and its citizens. To see them turned into what are essentially a federally controlled force that is armed to control protests, seems to not be in the interest of protecting American citizens, especially considering the consistent complaints against these agents for excessive use of weapons such as tear gas, pepper balls, rubber bullets, and other complaints that amount to a concerning pattern of extreme force being used against protestors, legal observers, and journalists.

The lack of identification on the uniforms or vehicles being used by these agencies is also a very big problem. From the perspective of a citizen, it would be difficult to identify officers as members of authority that can issue any sort of legal order. The reports that officers wearing extremely basic uniforms and driving unmarked cars have been detaining citizens is disturbing, because these agents are essentially immune to investigation or being held accountable for their actions because they can’t be identified. 

The Oregon police have also been accused of excessive force and similar charges, but by the virtue of being easily identified as police, it is still possible to file a complaint and investigate the situation because there is an established line of contact and ideally a system that will investigate and clear or punish those involved. An unidentified officer, who is a part of an undefined organization, is above almost any effort to investigate wrongdoings.

The precedent being set by the Federal agents that are active in Oregon, along with the cryptic warnings from President Trump and members of his administration speaking of taking similar action in other areas with major protests is unsettling. The government is coming dangerously close to having an unreproachable police that are not required to identify themselves or follow any sort of protocol or standards that we have tried to hold our regular police to. This type of force is inherently vulnerable to allowing abuses because of how hard it can be to regulate and the incredibly loose purpose that is assigned to them.

Federal agents should not be acting as a police force, especially one that is noticeably reacting with great force to protestors. Most federal agents have likely never been trained for the situations that they are being put in because they were never intended to be police. These protestors are seeking change that they see as for the betterment of their country. The many reports of incidents where federal agents have used crowd dispersal techniques on non-violent protestors and even legal watchdogs, or journalists, makes it seem that the stated purpose of their presence, which is to keep the federal buildings safe and keep the peace, is disingenuous.