Chicago activist groups sue to stop federal agents from policing protests
A coalition of advocacy groups in Chicago on Thursday filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the Trump administration from permitting federal agents to oversee protests in the city, a move that comes as the president expands a crackdown on cities that he claims have been “plagued by violent crime.”
The complaint, filed in Illinois federal court, calls for a judge to issue an injunction blocking the federal government from directing officers to take part in the policing of peaceful demonstrations. It also asks that the court mandate that officers refrain from arresting individuals in the city without probable cause and to require that agents identify themselves before detaining anyone.
Organizations including Black Lives Matter Chicago, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America and a local affiliate of the Communications Workers of America were among the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which targets Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, among others.
“This Court must check the unrestrained and unlawful actions of the executive branch,” the suit said.
The complaint was filed the day after President Trump announced that he would “immediately surge” federal officers to Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M., in an effort to address crime in the cities.
The move has been met with fierce pushback from local leaders, who have pointed to the escalating tensions in Portland, Ore., following the deployment of federal officers. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum last week filed a lawsuit alleging that federal agencies were illegally detaining citizens without probable cause.
Federal officers were deployed to Oregon in July after Trump signed an executive order that pledged to protect federal property and monuments across the U.S. in the face of mounting protests against police brutality and racial inequality. The deployment of officers to cities such as Chicago marked an expansion of a different Justice Department program addressing violence.
The initiative, dubbed “Operation Legend,” earlier this month also directed authorities from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to assist local police in Kansas City, Mo.
Thursday’s lawsuit from the advocacy groups alleges that the deployment of federal agents risks igniting “additional official violence against civilians.”
“The President, Defendant Barr, nor Defendant Wolf gave any assurance that the ‘hundreds’ of federal agents flooding Chicago would leave protestors alone,” the lawsuit said, claiming that the move to send agents to the city was tied to the demonstrations.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) urged Trump earlier this week to avoid sending federal officers to her city. She noted that she expected agents being sent to the city to work with DEA, ATF and FBI personnel already based in the region.
“If those agents are here to actually work in partnership on support of gun violence and violent cases, plugging into existing infrastructure of federal agents, not trying to play police in our streets, then that’s something different, and that may add value,” Lightfoot said. “But the proof is going to be in the pudding. It’s too soon to say if this is a value add or not.”
Trump has repeatedly targeted Democratic leaders in Chicago for what he claims is their failure to handle violence in the city, which is one of several across the U.S. that has seen sweeping protests in response to the May 25 police killing of George Floyd.
In a press conference Wednesday, Barr said that the death of Floyd was “terrible,” but added that “we had this extreme reaction that has demonized police and called for the defunding of police departments.”
“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 said.