What Happened In Portland Shows Just How Fragile Our Democracy Is

“In the video, Juniper Simonis screams as they are pushed to the ground, struggling, by a group of men in military fatigues who wield large, black weapons. While Simonis is handcuffed and their service dog barks, the men surround them, a wall of camo, blocking the videographer from capturing the full extent of what’s happening. Simonis wears shorts and a tank top, but the men appear dressed for war. The officers’ uniforms bear a large patch that says “police,” but they aren’t police. They’re federal agents, but with no name tags or badges, they are, in the moment of Simonis’s arrest, impossible to identify.

Simonis is an American scientist — a computational ecologist who does data analysis for researchers and the government. Last month, Simonis was detained outside a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, by mysterious men now known to be agents of the Department of Homeland Security, a federal agency created to fight terrorism. By Simonis’s own estimation, the scientist spent around eight hours in the agents’ custody. For the first 45 minutes or so, they said, they were held in a parking garage without having been read their rights. Simonis was then transferred to a U.S. Marshals’ lockup. Their request to call a lawyer or a friend was refused. Eventually, Simonis was given a citation for vandalism related to chalking the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, and sent out the door in the middle of the night with no way home.”

“According to a recent report by the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group, support for democracy is in no way universal. In fact, their findings show that 1 in 3 Americans have, at some point in the last three years, supported some kind of authoritarian view, and only about 80 percent said it was very important to live in a democracy.”

Judge Orders Federal Officers in Portland To Stop Harassing and Assaulting Journalists and Legal Observers

“The ACLU’s complaint, filed on behalf of the Portland Mercury, eight journalists, and two observers working with the ACLU, alleges that federal agents stationed at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse have joined local police in violating those principles. On July 12, for instance, federal officers shot photographer Mathieu Lewis-Rolland 10 times with “impact munitions” that left “severe lacerations, welts, and bruises all over his upper body.” According to the Geneva Guidelines on Less-Lethal Weapons and Related Equipment in Law Enforcement, such projectiles “should generally only be used in direct fire against the lower body of a violent individual when a substantial risk exists of immediate serious injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.”

The complaint alleges many similar abuses by Portland police, including the gratuitous use of tear gas and rubber bullets, unprovoked beatings, unlawful arrests, and other interference with activities protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU says the plaintiffs who have suffered such abuse were clearly identified as journalists or legal observers.

The lawsuit also complains that Portland police have routinely violated Simon’s June 9 order barring them from using tear gas at the protests except when “the lives or safety of the public or the police are at risk.” Simon said tear gas should not be used simply “to disperse crowds where there is no or little risk of injury.” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, got a taste of his own medicine on Wednesday night, when he was gassed by federal officers while vainly trying to show protesters that he was united with them in opposing the Trump administration’s response to the demonstrations.

The protests in Portland have been happening every day since May 28, three days after a Minneapolis police officer suffocated George Floyd. The federal officers, who according to an internal memo have not been trained in controlling riots or mass demonstrations, were deployed by the Trump administration this month, ostensibly to protect the courthouse and other federal property. But as Nancy Rommelman notes, the federal presence seems to have inflamed the situation, provoking the vandalism and assaults on the courthouse that the administration now cites to justify its involvement.”