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Operation Legend Explained: Why Trump is sending a ‘surge’ of federal officers into US cities

With the US economy crippled by Covid-19 and several polls predicting his defeat, President Donald Trump has been promoting himself as the ‘law and order’ leader “bringing violent perpetrators to justice”.

Written by Ankita Dwivedi Johri , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: July 26, 2020 8:35:01 am
Operation Legend, portland protests, portland protests news, portland protests today, portland protests today news, portland police brutality, portland federal forces, george floyd protest, george floyd portland, george floyd death, george floyd news Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Noah Berger,File)

Even as his administration faces criticism over the use of force by federal troops in Portland, Oregan, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a “surge of federal law enforcement” in cities run by Democrats, including Chicago, as part of an expanded ‘Operation Legend’.

With the US economy crippled by the coronavirus and several polls predicting a defeat for Trump in the November elections, the Republican president has been promoting himself as the ‘law and order’ leader “bringing violent perpetrators to justice”, which many see as a blatant attempt to stoke racial fears in White suburban voters.

What is Operation Legend, and what did Trump say?

Named after LeGend Taliferro –– a four-year-old Black child who was shot dead in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 29 while sleeping in his apartment – the operation was announced by the United States Department of Justice on July 8, 2020 to help the local police battle the “sudden surge of violent crime” in the city. Over 200 arrests were made in the city, which has reportedly seen a 40 per cent spike in murders in the last year, after over 100 federal troops were ushered in.

Recently, while denouncing the “bloodshed” across America, and calling the unrest in Portland “worse than Afghanistan”, President Trump said he might deploy agents to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, “cities controlled by liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.”

What’s happening in Portland?

Since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis on May 25, anti-racism protesters have been protesting on the streets of the city to seek police reforms. In early July, federal troops were moved into the city “to protect federal property”, but have often violently clashed with protesters and detained many in unmarked vehicles.

Operation Legend, Federal troops in US cities, Portland, Donald trump, black lives matter, trump biden ratings, express explained, indian express Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks to Black Lives Matter protesters on Wednesday, July 22. Wheeler joined protesters at the front of the crowd and was hit with chemical irritants several times by federal officers dispersing demonstrators. (Photo: AP)

On Thursday, Ted Wheeler, the Democrat mayor of the city, along with protesters, was also caught in a tear gas attack by federal agents as he stood outside a courthouse. Defending the Portland deployment, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf has said the agents are “only targeting and arresting those who have been identified as committing crime.”

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What’s the link to the US election?

Since his election campaign in 2016, when he claimed to save America from its descent into “chaos” and “barbarism”, Trump has often fallen back on the law and order rhetoric to tap into White racial resentment.

Ahead of the November elections, as his administration fights criticism over mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, job losses, and the economic crisis in the country, and as his numbers fall behind his Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls, Trump has made ‘law and order’ a key poll plank again. He hopes to revive his old voter base as he declares a fight against “anarchists” behind the recent protests “who the Democrats are afraid to take on”.

portland protests, portland racial injustice, us protests, us federal agents, police, racism, donald trump, black lives matter, world news, indian express news Federal officers use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo)

Has there been any pushback from cities on Trump’s decision to send federal troops?

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said that while the troops could “address violence”, they will not be engaging with protesters in the city. “That’s what we call tyranny, and dictatorship, and we are not having it in Chicago,” she said.

Opposing the move, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would take Trump to court if he followed through on his plan. “We’ve seen the chaos secret police are creating in Portland. We won’t let it happen here,” de Blasio wrote in a tweet.

In a statement, Tim Keller, mayor of Albuquerque, where 35 federal agents have been deployed already, said that “we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse. Operation Legend is not real crime fighting; it’s politics standing in the way of police work and makes us less safe.”

portland protests, portland police brutality, portland federal forces, black lives matter, george floyd protest, US protests, portland news, Indian Express A man passes graffiti near the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse following a Black Lives Matter protest on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

What does the US law say?

As per most experts, Trump’s decision to send federal troops into cities will not stand in court because under the US Constitution, state governors generally have authority to maintain order within their states’ borders. The President only has broad powers over federal spaces such as courts etc.

The country’s Posse Comitatus Act also limits the powers of the federal government in the use of federal military personnel to enforce domestic policies within the United States. While the US Insurrection Act lets presidents deploy forces to suppress domestic insurrection, it can be invoked only when it is impracticable to otherwise enforce US laws in court, or local authorities are depriving some people of equal protection, Ohio State law professor Peter Shane told Reuters. “Neither situation exists now… It suggests his rationale is pretextual,” Shane said.

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However, Customs and Border Patrol, an agency under the Department of Homeland Security whose members have been reportedly deployed in Portland, have special powers to “search and arrest to protect the homeland”, which can be cited in case of Portland.

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The Trump administration has been insisting that the troops are only protecting federal property. On Tuesday, however, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that their enforcement power may extend beyond federal properties. “Where you have someone shooting off a commercial-grade firework and then running across the street, we don’t believe that that extends past our jurisdiction,” she said.

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