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Oregon Officials Blast Trump Response To Portland Protests


And this is the sound of protests in Portland, Ore., over the weekend.


MARTIN: Fireworks were set off, and tear gas canisters were fired at protesters. Demonstrators are still on the streets despite what happened last week when unidentified federal agents started arresting people without telling them the charges and then taking them away in unmarked cars. Oregon's governor, Kate Brown, is taking action. She ordered her state attorney general to file a lawsuit to block the federal government from taking similar actions again. Jonathan Levinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting has been covering the protests since they started and joins us now on Skype. Jonathan, thanks for being here.

JONATHAN LEVINSON, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: I mean, it was OPB that broke this story in the first place about how federal agents there were arresting people in this manner. Can you just get us up to speed? Give us a sense of how things have evolved over the last month.

LEVINSON: Protests have been going on here every night for weeks since George Floyd's killing. And the police right off the bat were responding with significant violence. They were using tear gas, which is an agent that makes you cough, that makes your nose run, your eyes and your skin burn. And they were using rubber bullets with protesters. An activist group and protesters sued the city, and last month, they won a temporary restraining order limiting law enforcement's use of tear gas and rubber bullets. But, significantly, it didn't apply to federal law enforcement.

MARTIN: So, Jonathan, how is the Trump administration explaining the presence of federal agents there?

LEVINSON: So President Trump has called the protests here out of control. And last Friday, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, seemed to place the blame for the restrictions on Portland police at Mayor Ted Wheeler's feet when he was interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered.


KEN CUCCINELLI: It's not made any easier when you have somebody like Mayor Wheeler who holds back to a certain extent his own law enforcement.

LEVINSON: So that's Cuccinelli on NPR basically blaming the mayor for the restrictions and a temporary restraining order. The officers that are here are from the U.S. Marshal Special Operations Group, a SWAT-like unit from Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Protective Service. They started taking a more active role clearing protesters from around the courthouse on July 1.

MARTIN: And, I mean, it's my understanding they're there because - their justification, anyway, is that they're protecting federal property. Explain that.

LEVINSON: Yeah, that's right. They were sent here to protect federal property is what we've been told. But on the Fourth of July, there was a really big turnout at the protests. A lot of people were setting off fireworks, and the federal police made this really big show of force. They came out in large numbers, dispersed the crowd. But this time, they continued across the street into the park and then continued for blocks into the city right alongside the Portland police. And then a week ago, a protester was shot in the head with a less lethal round, and he was severely injured. The U.S. Marshals say they're investigating that. Last week, we found out federal police are using unmarked vehicles to grab people off the street. Cuccinelli confirmed in an NPR interview that that is a tactic that they're using. And on Saturday night, they beat a 53-year-old Navy veteran with a baton and fractured his hand. On Weekend Edition yesterday, the mayor blamed the federal police for actually making things worse.


TED WHEELER: We believed a week ago it would be over by this weekend. But what happened instead is the feds stepped in with a very heavy-handed approach, and it blew the lid off the whole thing.

MARTIN: So we heard what the governor is doing. What about other state and local leaders? What's their response?

LEVINSON: Yeah. Officials are pushing back. Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden say they plan to introduce an amendment to the defense bill preventing what Merkley called paramilitary squads from being sent onto American streets. And the Oregon Department of Justice is suing federal agencies. And the attorney general is pursuing - may pursue criminal charges against the officer who shot the protester.

MARTIN: Jonathan Levinson of OPB, thank you.

LEVINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jonathan Levinson