US federal agents use tear gas to disperse Portland’s BLM protest

US federal agents have again used tear gas in a bid to disperse a large crowd of protesters outside the federal court in Oregon state’s Portland city after multiple fireworks were shot towards the building during a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Thousands of people gathered on Friday night in Portland’s streets hours after a US judge denied Oregon’s request to restrict federal agents’ actions during protests that have roiled the city and pitted local officials against the Trump administration.

A few hundred people, most wearing masks and many donning helmets, gathered near a fountain before marching to the Hatfield Federal Courthouse, where the federal agents were stationed.

Beginning at 9pm (04:00 GMT on Saturday), the crowd pressed shoulder to shoulder, packed the area and overflowed into the streets as they chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “Feds go home” to the sound of drums.

As the night carried on, protesters shook the fence surrounding the court and shot multiple fireworks over it. Minutes later, tear gas was thrown into the crowd by the federal agents deployed by President Donald Trump to tamp down the unrest.

The agents have arrested dozens during nightly demonstrations against racial injustice that often turn violent.

Tear-gas protest in Portland

Federal agents have arrested dozens during nightly demonstrations against racial injustice in Portland [John Rudoff/Anadolu]

Legal challenges

The clashes in Portland have further inflamed the nation’s political tensions and triggered a crisis over the limits of federal power as Trump moves to send US officers to other Democratic-led cities as part of his new “law and order” re-election strategy after the coronavirus crashed the economy.

Democratic leaders in Oregon say federal intervention has worsened the two-month crisis, and the state attorney general alleged in his lawsuit that some people had been whisked off the streets in unmarked vehicles.

US District Judge Michael Mosman said the state lacked standing to sue on behalf of protesters because the lawsuit was a “highly unusual one with a particular set of rules”.

Oregon was seeking a restraining order on behalf of its residents; not for injuries that had already happened, but to prevent injuries by federal officers in the future.

That combination makes the standard for granting such a motion very narrow, and the state did not prove it had standing in the case, Mosman wrote.

Legal experts who reviewed the case before the decision had warned the judge could reject the case.

“The federal government acted in violation of those individuals’ rights and probably acted in violation of the constitution in the sense of exercising powers that are reserved to the states, but just because the federal government acts in ways that overstep its authority doesn’t mean the state has an injury,” said Michael Dorf, a constitutional law professor at Cornell University.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat who was tear-gassed this week as he joined the protesters, said the federal presence is exacerbating a tense situation and he has repeatedly told them to leave.

Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf denied that federal agents were inflaming the situation in Portland and said Wheeler legitimised criminality by joining demonstrators, whom Trump has called “anarchists and agitators”.

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