July 20, 2020 / 12:47 PM / 14 days ago

U.S. official on Portland protests: "we will maintain our presence"

WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) - A top U.S. Homeland Security official on Monday defended the federal crackdown on protests in Portland, Oregon, including the use of unmarked cars and unidentified officers in camouflage and said the practice will spread to other cities as needed.

Ken Cucinnelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy secretary, said authorities received intelligence about planned attacks on federal facilities in Portland around July 4 and backed up the Federal Protective Service responsible for protecting them with other DHS law enforcement components.

“If we get the same kind of intelligence in other places, about threats to other federal facilities or officers, we would respond the same way,” Cucinnelli told CNN. “When they’re unusually threatened, we advance extra resources. So it’s really as simple as that.”

Federal officers last week started cracking down on crowds gathering in Portland to protest police brutality and systemic racism. They used tear gas to disperse protesters for the second night in a row on Sunday, according to videos posted online and media reports.

Portland Police early on Monday provided details on another tense night between protesters and federal law enforcement in the city, saying federal agents used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered outside a federal courthouse in downtown Portland.

The clampdown in the liberal city has drawn widespread criticism and legal challenges as videos surfaced reuters.com/article/us-global-race-protests-portland/u-s-swoops- down-on-portland-protesters-after-trump-order-to-protect-monumen ts-idUSKCN24I2W5 of officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters without explanation.

Cuccinelli said the federal officers wore the same uniforms every day and the crowds knew who they were. He also defended the use of unmarked cars as routine.

“Unmarked police vehicles are so common it’s barely worth discussion,” he told CNN.

On Sunday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives demanded internal investigations into whether the Justice and Homeland Security departments “abused emergency authorities” in handling the Portland protests.

U.S. President Donald Trump condemned protests in Portland and violence in “Democrat-run” cities on Sunday as his Republican administration moves to intervene in urban centers he says have lost control of anti-racism demonstrations.

Portland’s mayor called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies, saying they had seized and detained people without probable cause.

Cucinnelli dismissed local leaders’ calls to leave the city.

“We will maintain our presence,” he said. “When that violence recedes and those threats recede, that is when we would ratchet back down to what I would call normal presence defending and protecting federal facilities.” (Reporting by Doina Chiacu; additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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