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NEWS: Portland, Oregon - Resolving a Civil Rights Crisis With Another Civil Rights Crisis

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Art by Rebecca Song

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, a second civil rights movement has surged with protests and riots alike gripping major cities across the nation. While clashes between the protesters and police have been constant since the beginning, federal troops have only recently made their way onto the stage without state approval. The national guard which had been previously deployed to deal with protests was called in by the states themselves. However, the federal government decided that Oregon’s state and local governments were not doing enough to curb the violent protests and vandalism. Federal troops, including ICE and Customs and Border Protection agents, were sent in by the Department of Homeland Security as facets of the Federal Protective Service to protect federal sites; one particular flash point that has received media attention has been the Mark O. Hatfield US Courthouse. This building in particular is federal property, so it justifies the deployment of federal troops.

If the situation was just the deployment of federal troops without state approval, then it would be nothing but a federalism conflict. However, the manner in which the federal troops arrest individuals and control crowds has received national condemnation. The federal troops are clothed in camouflage with poor agency markings, and people have been arrested in unmarked vehicles. Effectively, the government is kidnapping people without probable cause and even a disregard for what an arrest even means. The Department of Homeland Security held a press conference to address concerns over recent events, but when questioned about a specific video footage detailing constitutionally questionable police actions, the DHS refused to acknowledge the coercive detainment of an individual in a van as a “custodial arrest.” According to Supreme Court precedent in 1979, the coercive detainment of an individual and interrogation is substantively similar to a traditional arrest, so it must be treated the same way with respect to Fourth Amendment rights. Furthermore, the federal troops have used crowd-control weapons to the detriment of civilians’ health. Agents have fired kinetic impact munitions directly at protestors’ heads, causing them to bleed profusely, and the tear gas which has become a staple of American life has also been used to terrorize Black Lives Matter protesters. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon has already filed multiple lawsuits against Portland police and various other government entities for their attacks against journalists and legal observers in addition to these civil rights issues.

The origin of these problems is very clear. The federal agents brought in to deal with the protesters are not equipped to deal with civilian issues. ICE and CBP agents have been brought in from a different civil rights context to deal with an already tense situation. A lot of the practices which are abhorrent to the citizenry are commonplace treatment for immigrants crossing the border from Mexico. Regardless of your opinion on whether civil protections for immigrants should be differentiated from citizens, the fact is that training for a system that does not require a respect for human rights cannot be sufficient for officers trying to serve American citizens. While the deployment of officers may be permissible, the reckless abandon in agent action and training to control protesters has brought intense criticism.

The culmination of the United States’ race relations was previously thought to be the murder of George Floyd; that analysis was proven wrong. Today, the conflict between a “law and order” president that has equated the denial of rights as a means of raising poll numbers and a population seeking change by any means necessary has resulted in scenes very similar to that of a fascist police state, and our nation lies in wait for one of the ugliest periods of contemporary history to end.


Varun Mandgi is a staff writer at The Incandescent Review and a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School in Richmond, Virginia. The editor of his school's newspaper and political magazine, he also loves to compete in Lincoln Douglas debate, and spends his free time reading up on some of his favorite philosophers, including Rawls and Rousseau.

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