US president Donald Trump is waging war on the streets of America but the strongman approach is fomenting resistance, according to those on the ground.
US federal agents fired tear gas canisters at Black Lives Matter demonstrators in downtown Portland on Friday, US time, during the 56th straight day of protests amid growing scrutiny over the use of border patrol officers in the city.
Security forces have frequently tear-gassed and clubbed demonstrators during the unrest. The US Justice Department said it would investigate the use of force by federal agents in Portland after another night of unrest in which the city’s mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed late this week.
The investigations follow public anger over the deployment of federal border patrol officers to Portland against the wishes of local officials. US President Donald Trump's administration has said it is sending a similar contingent to Seattle and threatened to do so in other Democratic run cities.
The shadowy DHS force is, at least visually, reminiscent of secret police units that do the bidding of authoritarian regimes around the world, albeit of a far less brutal variety.
Demonstrators and local officials see the deployment of the agents in northwestern city as a ploy by Mr Trump to drum up a "law and order" campaign as he faces an uphill re-election battle coming into the November 3 presidential poll.
But there is little evidence the tactical escalation is working, says Yahoo News US journalist Patrick Symmes, who has been on the ground during the protests this week.
“The noisy show of force I witnessed Tuesday night left hundreds of people, including me, choking on tear gas. But federal officers have essentially been deployed for a photo op: less than 15 minutes after the skirmish began, it was over,” he said.
“The federal officers retreated inside the courthouse, surrendering the ground they had just taken back to jeering activists.”
Ostensibly, the federal agents were sent to the city to protect federal property. The give-and-take of ground as they clash with demonstrators has become an almost nightly ritual.
Portland crowd singing “hands up please don’t shoot me” tonight pic.twitter.com/G90EKJttL2— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) July 24, 2020
The controversial presence of the federal guards and their aggressive tactics have sustained the protests and caused them morph into something larger than the Black Lives Matter issue which sparked the demonstrations.
“If Portland is any indication, the militarisation is backfiring, turning a movement that even a week ago was drawing only a few hundred protesters into one that now draws thousands every night,” Mr Symmes wrote for Yahoo News US.
He said it is clear the motive of most participants is to vent their anger at the federal troops deployed by the White House and the shadowy arrests which have seen protesters pulled into unmarked vans by federal officers.
“I’ve been a foreign correspondent for two decades and am used to paramilitary police and citizens battling it out — but that was in the streets of troubled countries like Brazil or Venezuela, not in my hometown,” he wrote.
“I have been documenting how repressive regimes around the world work ... but I never expected to bring that story home.”
with Reuters, Yahoo News US
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