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DHS head knocks 'failed response' to 'rampant' violence in Portland

DHS head knocks 'failed response' to 'rampant' violence in Portland
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Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfLawmakers slam DHS watchdog following report calling for 'multi-year transformation' Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump Sunday shows preview: Democrats eye passage of infrastructure bill; health experts warn of fourth coronavirus wave MORE on Thursday lambasted the city of Portland, Ore., for its handling of protests that dominated its downtown area since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May.

Wolf described protesters as a "violent mob" and "lawless anarchists" who "destroy and desecrate property," citing damage that has been done to the Hatfield Federal Courthouse.

“A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice — to attack it is to attack America," Wolf said in a statement. "Instead of addressing violent criminals in their communities, local and state leaders are instead focusing on placing blame on law enforcement and requesting fewer officers in their community. This failed response has only emboldened the violent mob as it escalates violence day after day."

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Federal officers, deployed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), have occupied the courthouse and other nearby buildings for the past couple of weeks in an effort to minimize the damage done to federal property and keep protesters in check.

Over the weekend, one demonstrator was reportedly left in critical condition after being struck in the head with nonlethal ammunition by a federal officer.

Forces used nonlethal rounds and tear gas to disperse protests who had gathered around the courthouse. One federal officer was assaulted by a protester with a hammer, and other activists blocked surrounding streets, lit fires and fired off fireworks towards the courthouse.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) has been critical of the federal presence during the unrest.

"I told the Acting Secretary that my biggest immediate concern is the violence federal officers brought to our streets in recent days, and the life-threatening tactics his agents use. We do not need or want their help," Wheeler tweeted on Tuesday.

 
 
On Tuesday, several Democratic members of Oregon's congressional delegation wrote to Wolf and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrCNN legal analyst joins DOJ's national security division Barr threatened to resign over Trump attempts to fire Wray: report DOJ faces big decision on home confinement MORE condemning the use of force by federal officers against protesters in Portland.

“In recent weeks, the federal government has deployed to Portland a number of DOJ and DHS officers. This politically driven federal response is intolerable,” the group of Democrats wrote. “The apparent lack of operational coordination between agencies, departments, and offices, and the violence perpetrated by federal personnel is particularly concerning. Their presence and lack of coordination raises urgent concerns about how those engaging in illegal use of force against demonstrators will be held accountable.”

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On Wednesday, protesters attempted to create their own autonomous zone, similar to the one that existed for several weeks in Seattle, setting up tents and barricades in Lownsdale Square Park and Chapman Square Park, adjacent parks located across the street from the courthouse. 

Early Thursday morning, Portland police closed the parks down, driving protesters out of the area.

"The parks will remain closed until needed repairs are made and the parks are ready to reopen for all to enjoy," the police department said in a statement. "The Police Bureau will assist other City bureaus to facilitate park closure and repair to lawns, bathrooms, benches and public art."

The police said that some arrests had been made when clearing out the parks. Video footage of one of the arrests shows a police officer tackling a protester riding a bike.

Police said that more details regarding the arrests would be released when available.