WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Monday targeted a trio of cities where protests against police violence and racial injustice have been ongoing for months, saying officials in New York City, Seattle and Portland, Oregon “are permitting anarchy, violence and destruction.”
The designations come weeks after President Donald Trump announced plans to consider withholding federal funds from cities “that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones.”
“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Monday in a news release. “It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”
The cities identified Monday by the DOJ were listed in the president’s Sept. 2 memo calling for a review of federal funding to “anarchist jurisdictions.” The president said authorities in New York City “have allowed violence to spike” and pointed to Seattle’s weekslong Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone as signs of the problem. Trump also called out Portland officials for allowing “violent anarchists to unlawfully riot and engage in criminal activity on the streets, including the destruction of property.”
Trump also criticized Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in the memo, saying that she “allowed rioters and anarchists to engage in violence and destruction in late May and early June.” The Justice Department did not name Washington as an “anarchist jurisdiction” Monday.
Local officials have accused Trump of inflaming tensions.
Earlier this month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the president’s effort to label certain cities “anarchist jurisdictions” as “the latest baseless, petty and divisive move by President Trump to distract from his abject failure to protect Americans from COVID-19.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the president was trying to score political points, while Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called the move “dangerous, destructive and divisive.”
Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, told The Associated Press earlier this month that the president’s Sept. 2 order had no legal standing. If it were implemented, he said, it would slash resources for police and firefighters and other essential services — the very thing Trump has claimed Democrats are trying to do when it comes to law enforcement.
“This effort is intended only to inflame tensions and divide us,” Cochran said.
Previously, Trump threatened to withhold funds for cities that refused to comply with more stringent immigration policies, but the move was blocked by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In its ruling, the court said the effort violated separation of powers provisions enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
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