July 20, 2020

Van Hollen, Merkley, Wyden Announce Legislation to Block Federal Paramilitary Occupations in American Cities

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced that they are introducing the Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act, which would block the Trump administration from deploying federal forces as a shadowy paramilitary against Americans. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). 

The Senators’ action comes after a week in which heavily armed, unidentified federal forces in unmarked vehicles have been grabbing protesters off the street in Portland, Oregon, deploying munitions and tear gas against protesters nightly over the weekend. The federal incursion has inflamed conflict at a time when local leaders are working to de-escalate friction between protesters and police. President Trump said he plans to send similar law enforcement to various other cities in addition to Portland, explicitly naming Baltimore as an example in the oval office today.

“Donald Trump’s actions demonstrate that he is better equipped to run an authoritarian regime than be president of our great American democracy. It’s outrageous that he has deployed secret federal forces to states and cities where they are unwanted to deny peaceful protestors their First Amendment rights. This abuse of power is not acceptable anywhere in our country – and it will be not be tolerated in Baltimore as he has threatened. His actions undermine core American values, and we must stop him,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“What we have seen in the last 10 days in Portland has been horrific and unconscionable,” said Senator Merkley. “Federal forces have shot an unarmed protester in the head with impact munitions, and paramilitary forces in camouflage have been grabbing people off the streets and putting them into unmarked vans. These are the actions of an authoritarian regime, not a democratic republic. This gross violation of Americans’ civil rights must end immediately.”

"Donald Trump's occupying army continues to trample on the constitutional rights of Oregonians and escalate violence against peaceful protesters," Senator Wyden said. "If Congress doesn't step in, these authoritarian tactics won't stop in my hometown. If it can happen in Portland, it can happen anywhere."

The Senators also introduced today’s legislation as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate is currently debating.

Specifically, the legislation would:

  1. Require individual and agency identification on uniforms of officers and prevent unmarked vehicles from being used in arrests.
  2. Limit federal agents’ crowd control activities to federal property and its immediate vicinity, unless their presence is specifically requested by both the mayor and governor.
  3. Require disclosure on an agency website within 24 hours of deployments specifying the number of personnel and purposes of deployment.
  4. Make arrests in violation of these rules unlawful.

In addition to Van Hollen, Merkley, and Wyden, today’s legislation and the Senate NDAA amendment are cosponsored by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Angus King (I-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Michael Bennet (D-CO). 

The full text of the Senate NDAA amendment is available here.