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article imageUS government watchdogs to probe federal crackdowns in Portland, DC

By Jocelyne ZABLIT (AFP)     Jul 23, 2020 in World

The US Justice Department's independent watchdog announced Thursday it was launching probes into the use of force by federal agents in Portland, Oregon, and the US capital.

The move comes following outrage by members of Congress, as well as rights activists and the public, over daily violent clashes in Portland between federal forces and demonstrators protesting against racism and police brutality.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office has opened an investigation into the civil unrest, which escalated in the past week following reports of camouflaged federal agents using force and snatching people from the streets of the western city and putting them into unmarked cars.

A separate review is being conducted over a crackdown against protesters in the US capital's Lafayette Square on June 1 near the White House, ahead of a photo op by President Donald Trump in front of a church.

The Department of Homeland Security, whose law enforcement agents have come under fierce criticism for their behavior in Portland, said its internal watchdog was also conducting a probe.

Horowitz said investigators will "examine the DOJ's and its law enforcement components' roles and responsibilities in responding to protest activity and civil unrest in Washington, DC, and in Portland, Oregon over the prior two months."

"The review will include examining the training and instruction that was provided to the DOJ law enforcement personnel; compliance with applicable identification requirements, rules of engagement, and legal authorities; and adherence to DOJ policies regarding the use of less-lethal munitions, chemical agents, and other uses of force," Horowitz added.

- "Reckless administration" -

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler reacts after being tear gassed by federal officers while attending a prot...
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler reacts after being tear gassed by federal officers while attending a protest against police brutality and racial injustice on July 22, 2020 in Portland, Oregon
Nathan Howard, GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

He said his office will coordinate its probe with the Department of Homeland Security's watchdog.

US lawmakers welcomed the investigations with the chairs of the Judiciary, Homeland Security and Oversight demanding answers to the use of federal forces to "suppress, teargas and beat peaceful protesters and American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights."

"Congress will continue to check this reckless Administration, but it is deeply important that these independent inspectors general get to the bottom of President Trump’s use of force against his own citizens," they said in a statement.

Early Thursday morning, the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, was teargassed in the downtown area as he met with the protesters.

Video footage showed Wheeler wearing goggles and a face mask surrounded by a large crowd. He held his nose and closed his eyes amid clouds of gas and fireworks exploding nearby.

"This is an egregious overreaction on the part of the federal officers," Wheeler told The New York Times.

"This is flat-out urban warfare."

He said he had seen nothing that justified the police response.

"I'm not afraid but I am pissed off," he said.

The protests were initially sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died at the hands of Minnesota police on May 25. Similar demonstrations have taken place across the country.

Trump has justified the deployment of the federal officers, saying they were needed to protect federal property and to restore order.

He has described the protesters as "anarchists and agitators" and has vowed to send federal officers to more US cities.

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