Trump orders ‘surge’ of federal agents into US cities

President Donald Trump is to send "a surge" of federal security forces to US cities in a crackdown on crime. Chicago and two other Democratic-run cities are being targeted in the Republican president's move, amid a spike in violence. But federal deployments in Portland, Oregon, have proved controversial. Local officials say they have raised tensions amid ongoing protests.

Law and order has become a key plank of Trump's re-election bid in November. Since the death on 25 May of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there have been protests - sometimes descending into civil disorder - in scores of US cities. Meanwhile, gun violence has spiked in metropolitan areas including New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and Milwaukee.

The president, who accuses Democrats of being weak on crime, said: "In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defend, dismantle and dissolve our police department." He blamed this for "a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence". He added: "This bloodshed will end."

US Attorney General William Barr, who was with Trump, said they had sent about 200 federal agents to Kansas City, Missouri. They would send a "comparable" number to Chicago and about 35 others to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Barr said the officers would be involved in "classic crime fighting", unlike the deployment of Department of Homeland Security agents which were sent to "defend against riots and mob violence" in Portland.

However policing in the US is the responsibility of states, and governors and locals officials have resisted the deployment of federal agents.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has called it "a blatant abuse of power," and Portland's Mayor Ted Wheeler "an attack on our democracy."Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Tuesday: "We welcome actual partnership, but we do not welcome dictatorship."

On Tuesday night, federal agents fired tear gas, pepper balls and flashbangs at demonstrators in Portland, which has seen 54 consecutive nights of protests. The officers used crowd-control munitions to disperse hundreds of people gathered outside a federal court. The agents have been accused of driving in unmarked vehicles around Oregon's biggest city while wearing military fatigues and arbitrarily arresting a handful of demonstrators.

Using the same alarmist language Trump has employed to describe illegal immigration, ythe US president painted Democrat-led cities as out of control and lashed out at the “radical left,” which he blamed for rising violence in some cities, even though criminal justice experts say it defies easy explanation.

“In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police department,” Trump said Wednesday at a White House event, blaming the movement for “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence.”

“This bloodshed must end,” he said. “This bloodshed will end.”

The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyperpoliticized moment when Trump is grasping for a new reelection strategy after the coronavirus upended the economy, dismantling what his campaign had seen as his ticket to a second term. With less than four months until Election Day, Trump has been warning that violence will worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November and Democrats have a chance to make the police reforms they have endorsed after the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests demanding racial justice.

Crime began surging in some cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia when stay-at-home orders lifted. Criminal justice experts seeking answers have pointed to the unprecedented moment: a pandemic that has killed over 140,000 Americans, historic unemployment, a mass reckoning over race and police brutality, intense stress and even the weather. Compared with other years, crime in 2020 is down overall.

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