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Getty Images / Mason Trinca
Getty Images / Mason Trinca

How Portland has become the epitome of reality in the United States

Between an unrelenting pandemic and unresponsive government, the city of Portland appears to be the beginning of an inevitable social and administrative…

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Remember when Donald Trump warned of a civil war if the impeachment against him ended with his departure from power? That was not the first time the U.S. president had fanned the fires of national divisionism, but in retrospect, it seemed a kind of omen.

After the country had seen the video of George Floyd repeatedly claiming his life under the knee of a white police officer, the streets were flooded with people tired of structural racism and abuse of power.

More than thirty days later, that feeling has mutated into a weariness of everything that doesn't work in the American system –including the president.

The best example of this is the situation in the city of Portland.

The government's lack of response to racism in the country has kept the city's people on the streets in a kind of widespread catharsis against the germ of discontent accumulated over months –if not years– in American society.

Earlier this month, in the face of sustained protests, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service deployed federal officers to Portland, Oregon, to suppress the protesters, against the will of the state government.

The result has been nothing less than an impromptu pitched battle between those protesting police violence and the officers who respond with more violence.

Social network videos show the excessive use of force by agents dressed in camouflage and without identification, which Senator Jeff Merkley has called "authoritarian" moves by the government.

"Law enforcement agents aren’t targeting protesters who engaged in violence," Ruth Marcus wrote in her column for the Washington Post, "they appear to be sweeping up random people who have exercised their rights under the First Amendment.”

Two federal judges appear to agree with that assertion and have issued two temporary restraining orders to reprimand the Portland police office for likely violations of protesters' rights to free speech and against the use of excessive force, and to order the police to stop arresting journalists and legal observers who seek to document what is happening.

Two conflicts coincide

The situation in the city has transformed into the juxtaposition of two duels: that between the local government and the federal authorities, and that of the minority communities against the epidemic of police violence.

The paradox, as Tim Dickinson explains in his article for Rolling Stone, is that this phenomenon arises in a city known for its liberalism and progressiveness.

“This paradox is acute in Portland — but it is alive in metros across America, from Denver to Minneapolis to New York City, where ostensibly liberal mayors allow police departments to operate as a nearly autonomous branch of government, as if beyond their control,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, the White House is only stirring up anger, sending federal troops to incite violence, and give the image of a "strong hand" the president likes so much.

Last Sunday, he tweeted that his administration is "trying to help Portland, not hurt it.”

"Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators," he wrote. "They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!"

Mayor Ted Wheeler responded by rejecting government intervention and asserting that the administration's tactics in his city "are abhorrent," according to NBC News.

"The tactics that the Trump administration is using on the streets of Portland are abhorrent," he said. "People are being literally scooped off the street into unmarked vans, rental cars, apparently. They are being denied probable cause and they're denied due process."

"They don't even know who's pulling them into the vans," he continued. "The people aren't identifying themselves. And, as far as I can see, this is completely unconstitutional."

Institutionalized negligence?

Agents deployed in Portland have been reported several times for not being identified as required by law, in what many suspect is a government strategy to protect the identity of those who are now authorized to resort to the use of extreme violence without fear of any repercussion.

According to the New York Times, which obtained access to a federal memo, federal agents in Portland "were not specifically trained in riot control or mass demonstrations.”

The document, dated Thursday, was prepared by the agency for Chad F. Wolf, acting secretary of homeland security, who received it upon arrival in Portland to assess the situation.

The memo, which appears to anticipate future meetings with protesters in other cities as the department follows President Trump's lead in suppressing unrest, warns: “Moving forward, if this type of response is going to be the norm, specialized training and standardized equipment should be deployed to responding agencies.”

Among the tactical agents deployed by the Department of Homeland Security are officials from a group known as BORTAC, the Border Patrol equivalent of a S.W.A.T. team, a highly trained group that typically investigates drug-smuggling organizations, unlike city protesters.

Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said in a tweet that he and another Oregon Senator, Ron Wyden, will introduce an amendment to the defense bill next week to prevent the Trump administration from "sending its paramilitary squads" onto the streets of the United States, according to the Times.

The protesters, meanwhile, diverted their focus of anger to the presence of federal forces in the city.

In this way, what began as a protest against police violence and structural racism was transformed into a protest against the federal government's abuse of power and the authoritarianism that seems to grow every day in the White House.

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