Judge blocks US agents from arresting observers in Portland
Portland (US): A federal judge specifically blocked U.S. agents from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers at protests in Oregon’s largest city where President Donald Trump is testing the limits of federal power.
Federal agents appeared to deploy tear gas early Friday to force thousands of demonstrators from crowding around the federal courthouse.
Protesters had projected lasers on the building and attempted to take down a security fence that had been reinforced to keep demonstrators at a distance.
The protesters moved away as clouds of gas rose from the area and flash grenades could be heard.
US Judge Michael Simon made his ruling late Thursday, a day after Portland’s mayor was tear-gassed by federal agents while making an appearance outside a federal courthouse during raucous demonstrations.
Protesters have been kept up in the city for nearly two months since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
Simon had previously ruled that journalists and legal observers are exempt from police orders requiring protesters to disperse once an unlawful assembly has been declared.
Federal lawyers intervened, saying journalists should have to leave when ordered.
“This order is a victory for the rule of law,” Jann Carson, ACLU of Oregon’s interim executive director, said in a statement.
The judge said objections by law enforcement were outweighed by First Amendment concerns.
“None of the government’s proffered interests outweigh the public’s interest in accurate and timely information about how law enforcement is treating” protesters, he wrote.
Simon’s order is in effect for 14 days. Journalists and observers must wear clear identification, he said.
A freelance photographer covering the protests for The Associated Press submitted an affidavit that he was beaten with batons and hit with chemical irritants and rubber bullets this week.
The ACLU lawsuit is one of several filed in response to law enforcement actions during the protests. The state of Oregon is seeking an order limiting federal agents’ arrest powers during the demonstrations.
On Wednesday, Mayor Ted Wheeler and hundreds of others were objecting to the presence of federal police sent by Trump, who labelled the demonstrators as “agitators & anarchists” after Wheeler was gassed.
Wheeler, a Democrat, appeared slightly dazed and coughed and said it was the first time he’d been tear-gassed.
He put on a pair of goggles someone handed him and drank water but did not leave his spot at the front of the raging demonstration — with protesters lighting a large fire between protective fencing and the Mark O Hatfield Federal Courthouse amid the pop-pop-pop sounds of the federal agents deploying tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the agents knew that Wheeler, a 57-year-old sixth-generation Oregonian and longtime politician, was in the crowd when they used the tear gas.
Wheeler has opposed the federal agents’ presence but has also faced harsh criticism from the protesters, who yelled and swore at him.
Christopher Columbus statue taken down at Chicago park
Chicago: A statue of Christopher Columbus that drew chaotic protests in Chicago’s Grant Park was taken down early Friday amid a plan by President Donald Trump to dispatch federal law enforcement agents to the city.
Crews used a large crane to remove the statue from its pedestal as a small crowd gathered to watch. Several work trucks were seen in the area but it was unclear where the statue could be taken.
The White House plan came after a protest over the statue led to police swinging batons and demonstrators hurling frozen water bottles, fireworks and other projectiles at officers. It also stemmed from a shooting during a funeral that wounded 15 people.
A collection of activist groups had filed suit Wednesday, seeking to block federal agents from interfering in or policing protests.
State officials in Oregon had sued for similar requests following the arrival of federal law enforcement due to nearly two months of protests in Portland since the death of George Floyd.