Attorney General Barr said Operation Legend would be different than last week’s crackdown on protesters in Oregon.
Donald Trump ordered a “surge” of hundreds of federal law enforcement officers to Chicago to combat what the president and senior administration officials have described as an “explosion” of violent crime.
Federal officers deployed to Chicago — and other cities in the coming weeks — will be drawn from the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security. According to Attorney General Bill Barr, they will help with the investigation and arrest of state law offenders, solve murders, and investigate other federal crimes.
A similar deployment of officers has already been seen to Kansas City, Mo. Announcing the deployment on Wednesday, the president said that he will also sent federal officers into other cities whose leaders are "too proud or too political" to ask for the help he said that they “should want,” naming Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Barr sought to portray the deployment — called Operation Legend — as separate from the DHS and DOJ officers in Portland, Ore., who have drawn fierce criticism for their heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators protesting police violence. Officers in that city have been videoed striking nonviolent protesters with batons and dragging demonstrators into unmarked vans.
“This is a different kind of operation obviously than the tactical teams that we use to defend against riots and mob violence, and we’re going to continue to confront mob violence,” Barr said. “But the operations we’re discussing today are very different. They are classic crime-fighting.”
But Barr linked the two issues, saying that there had been an extreme reaction to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, "and what we have seen then is a significant increase in violent crime in many cities. And this rise is a direct result of the attack on the police forces and the weakening of police forces.” He offered no evidence for that claim.
Some mayors and governors have opposed the federal law enforcement presence in their cities. Portland’s mayor and the Oregon governor have called for the federal forces to leave. "Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism," Portland mayor Ted Wheeler said Sunday. In Chicago, a spokesman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters Tuesday that she expected some federal resources to help combat violent crime — which rose significantly in June compared to the same month last year — but emphasized that there would not be a “Portland-style” crackdown on protests.
“Should the Trump administration foolishly try to usurp our local authority, [we] will not hesitate to take decisive action to stop this unwanted and dangerous intrusion,” the spokesperson, Megan Vidis, told Politico.
Trump, facing flagging poll numbers and under siege for his handling of both the coronavirus pandemic and his militarized response to the George Floyd protests, is turning to a familiar “law and order” playbook. The administration’s DHS leaders argue that the department has an obligation to protect federal property in Portland. For Chicago, Trump has blamed “radical left” city and state leaders for “abdicating” their responsibility to U.S. citizens by failing to confront violent crime themselves. He reeled off a litany of recent shootings in Chicago, long a popular axe on the right used, in part, to deflect criticism that there is racial bias in policing.
“No mother should ever have to cradle her dead child in her arms just because politicians refuse to do what is necessary to secure their neighborhood and to secure their city,” Trump said.
“Americans must hold their city leaders accountable,” he said. “They must insist that community officials fully support, fully back and fully fund their local police departments. There is simply no substitute for a police department that has the strong backing of city leaders.”
Critics argue that the program, while legal, is an overreach of presidential powers — especially when federal forces are sent over the heads of local officials.
“No statute authorizes federal law enforcement officers to generally restore order. Throughout our history, the military—including today’s National Guard—has been the federal actor in such cases. That Trump isn’t using it underscores that this isn’t *really* about restoring order, “ tweeted University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck.
“The point is not that the federal government is powerless in cases in which local and state officials are unable or unwilling to restore order,” he continued. “The point is that there’s a clearly lawful, precedented way for the federal government to act—and that that’s not what Trump is doing.”