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Trying To Make Sense of Operation Legend

  • Birdsall Obear

2020 may be the strangest year on record. No matter how accustomed we have become to the surreal images around us, the sight of camouflaged federal agents marching on protesters in an American city is still shocking.

That is currently taking place in Portland, Oregon, with the president threatening to expand the operation to cities throughout the country such as Chicago and Philadelphia. Law enforcement from the Department of Homeland Security was sent to Portland under the aegis of the Federal Protective Service to guard federal property such as courthouses from vandalism after weeks of demonstrations in the city.

The operation has generated controversy and accusations that it is unconstitutional, as federal officers have failed to identify themselves while carrying out their orders. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed at a protest on Wednesday while calling for federal authorities to withdraw from the city he serves, joining the company of a group of protesting mothers who were targeted with tear gas. 

Legitimate Law Enforcement Actions or Kidnapping?

Images of protesters being taken off the  street and put into unmarked vans has led to accusations that the federal government is operating a secret police force in violation of the rights of protesters. Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum went before a federal judge to decry the use of “unconstitutional police sate-type tactics” in Portland.

Elsewhere on the legal front, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was successful in achieving a restraining order against the officers, barring them from attacking or arresting journalists and legal observers. 

Camouflaged Officers Raise Alarm

The militarization of police forces around the country has been a topic of the national conversation surrounding police reform in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and related protests. The visuals coming out of Portland have shined a spotlight on the issue, with federal officers wearing tactical military gear as if they are preparing for military action rather than law enforcement activities.

This has led to calls from “military leaders, lawmakers, and former government officials for federal officers to shed the camouflage and return to wearing uniforms that clearly identify them as law enforcement. “

Nationwide Reaction to Operation Legend

The situation in Portland has not gone unnoticed nationally. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has already laid out his plan for how the city may respond in the event Operation Legend results in federal agents being deployed on the city’s streets.  According to Philly Voice, Krasner said that he would pursue criminal charges against any agents who violate the rights of protesters.

Know Your Rights

The federal agencies say they are simply following lawful commands to maintain law and order while local officials, protesters and civil liberties advocates say they are operating unlawfully. The courts will ultimately decide that dispute. In the meantime it is crucial that you understand your rights, including what you are entitled to if questioned or arrested by federal officers at a protest.

You have the right to ask the officers to identify who they are with, and to ask if you are being placed under arrest. If you are placed under arrest, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. With so much uncertainty surrounding these issues, it is in your best interest to remain silent until you have had a chance to discuss your situation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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