The ACLU has officially filed suit against the Trump Administration over actions taken in Portland, Oregon.
As of this month, Portland has seen—according to NPR and other news sources—over ninety consecutive days of protests. These protests began in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, an African American man killed by white police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck for about eight minutes.
In the months since George Floyd’s death, the response of the public has been swift and angry. Public demands for police reform have manifested as protests across the country.
Their opponents have characterized their behavior as that of rioters, partaking in incendiary behavior that has led to looting and violence. In return, protestors have warned of tear gassings, beatings, and the use of rubber bullets and other ‘less lethal’ ammunition that actually cause devastating injury.
One article by USA Today tells tale of dozens of protestors grievously injured by these bullets. Some have suffered fractured skulls and broken jaws. Others have faced far worse outcomes: blindness and traumatic brain injuries. The usage of these rounds, fired into the crowd, seems to fly in the face of police policy, as police are explicitly instructed not to aim for the head or neck when using these rounds during training, and there are some individual departments that have deemed these rounds dangerous enough that officers are explicitly forbidden from targeting these areas unless it is deemed that “deadly force is warranted” (USA Today).
One of the most concerning allegations to come out of these protests is the claim that there is a secret police force being deployed in Portland. Oregon Public Broadcasting initially reported on this in July, publishing accounts of “people in camouflage were driving around the area in unmarked minivans grabbing people off the street” (OPB).
Many in Trump’s administration—such as acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who has been recently nominated by Trump to take on the role permanently—have defended this choice as necessary, but others worry that these actions resemble autocratic behavior.
The American Civil Liberty Union’s lawsuit seeks to do something about these concerns and the actions of law enforcement in Portland. The ACLU is filing on behalf of several veterans and protestors involved in the Portland protests. One of the plaintiffs is Navy veteran Christopher David. A video of David has gone viral, showing him being struck with a baton several times and sprayed in the face with gas. He stands still throughout the assault and does not appear to retaliate physically. Afterwards, he walks away and raises his middle fingers in the direction of the officers.
The ACLU’s lawsuit pursues reparations for injured protestors who were hurt through the use of ‘excessive force’ and is attempting to ensure that the deployment of this secret police in American cities is declared unconstitutional (UPI). This is not the first challenge issued against the Trump Administration from the ACLU. In fact, the ACLU website notes that they have filed over 237 lawsuits against the current administration.
Notably, Associated Press has pointed out that part of the ACLU’s lawsuit claims that Chad Wolf (the aforementioned Homeland Security Secretary) was improperly appointed, and therefore had no authority to give such orders. This appears to be based off a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). This report claims that an incorrect succession occurred back in April 2019, and the man who incorrectly assumed the position then altered the order of succession for his own departure. However, because his own succession was technically invalid, the GAO argues that his amendments to the rules must also be disqualified (Politico). The DHS has released a written statement dismissing these claims.
All things taken together, this case, like many of the other cases that the ACLU has worked on, engages with several important questions about the function and rights of our democracy. It tackles concerns over the extent and nature of force that the federal government is allowed to exert and when the use of that force is appropriate, as well as challenging us to untangle the issues posed by the messy succession of an important government position.
Only time will tell how this case is going to play out, but the rulings made here could very well carry forward far into the future.
Associated Press, ACLU sues over federal action in Portland, Oregon, protests: https://apnews.com/0347be8aae66a3237bccb8daa8063cf6
NPR, Police Declare Portland Protests A Riot But This Definition Could Be Rooted In Racism: https://www.npr.org/2020/08/27/906729976/police-declare-portland-protests-a-riot-but-this-definition-could-be-rooted-in-r
Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), Federal Law Enforcement Use Unmarked Vehicles To Grab Protesters Off Portland Streets: https://www.opb.org/news/article/federal-law-enforcement-unmarked-vehicles-portland-protesters/
Politico, GAO finds Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli are ineligible to serve in their top DHS roles: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/08/14/gao-chad-wolf-ken-cuccinelli-ineligible-dhs-395222
United Press International (UPI), ACLU sues Trump administration over federal agents at Portland protests: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2020/08/26/ACLU-sues-Trump-administration-over-federal-agents-at-Portland-protests/7171598486467/
USA Today, ACLU files lawsuit for Portland protesters, military veterans against Trump administration: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/08/26/aclu-portland-protesters-military-veterans-sue-trump-administration/3443832001/
USA Today, Fractured skulls, lost eyes: Police break their own rules when shooting protesters with ‘rubber bullets’: https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2020/06/19/police-break-rules-shooting-protesters-rubber-bullets-less-lethal-projectiles/3211421001/
Vice News, Trump’s Secret Police Are Pulling Back from Portland: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xg8577/trumps-secret-police-are-pulling-back-from-portland