In Portland, Ore., where protesters have been active for nearly two months, masked armed federal agents without any identification have been abducting protesters into unmarked vehicles, as well as using tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash-bangs. They were from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, at the behest of President Donald Trump, who applauded their use of force. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called on the federal agents to leave.
On Monday, Trump threatened to send federal forces to New York, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., and Philadelphia. Trump expanded his reasoning from dealing with civil unrest to gun violence. The White House plans to send 175 agents to Chicago to “help” with violent crime, despite Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleading for no such measure.
All the cities that Trump mentioned at the Oval Office have two things in common: They are led by Democratic mayors, and they have large Black populations. With less than four months to the general election, Trump is doubling down on the politics of fear and racism. His reelection message, which he has been tweeting ad nauseam, is that a Democratic win in November would mean chaos and crime. To make his case, Trump is using every tool he has — including militarized forces of the Department of Homeland Security — to inflame tensions with disregard to lives.
Trump’s agents are not welcome in Philadelphia. This city and residents are not pawns for Trump to play his divisive brand of politics with.
That was also the message from Philadelphia’s elected officials. Mayor Jim Kenney responded to Trump’s threat of sending federal agents to Philadelphia by calling it “ironic and offensive,” and an “abuse of power” that the city would “use all means to resist.”
The mayor has a point — and he should use all means to resist Trump’s effort to incite violence. But the images and outrage over what happened in Portland also stand as a mirror for Philadelphia’s own actions.
Philadelphia doesn’t need clandestine federal law enforcement to teargas, shoot rubber bullets, and conduct mass arrests of protesters — not when the Philadelphia Police Department is here, doing the same.
Kenney and his administration still owe many answers to the residents of Philadelphia. Who made key decisions during the first days of protest is still unclear — as is Kenney’s or Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw’s personal involvement. On Monday, Kenney announced that he hired two firms to conduct an audit of the city’s response to protests that should be completed by the end of the year. According to the Mayor’s Office, the budget of the audit is approximately $268,000.
With his poll numbers trailing, the months ahead of the election are going to bring the worst out of Trump. That will require the state and the city to resist — and they proved in the past that they are up for the task. But it also requires that our local leaders be more transparent than ever. With the amount of harm that Trump could potentially inflict — on citizens as well as to our values — there is no room for more harm from our city’s leaders and law enforcement.