WASHINGTON • The mayors of New York City and Chicago said on Tuesday they would take US President Donald Trump to court if he sent unidentified US government agents to police their cities, pushing back on a threat that has sparked widespread controversy over the use of federal force.
But Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also said she would accept Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and other identified law enforcement officials, an acknowledgement of the scale of gun violence and crimes plaguing her city.
Ms Lightfoot and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke a day after Mr Trump said he would send law enforcement to several cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, to crack down on protests against racism and police brutality ignited by Mr George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.
The Republican President said the mayors of the cities on his list were liberal Democrats, underpinning concerns the threat was politically motivated.
Federal agents were last week dispatched to counter protests in Portland, Oregon, where protesters have complained of agents making arrests without identifying themselves and using unmarked cars.
Opinion polls show Mr Trump trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the run-up to the Nov 3 presidential election. Mr Trump has sought to make a crackdown a campaign issue, taking the spotlight off his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr de Blasio said Mr Trump’s threat was likely bluster, but added that he would challenge any deployment in the courts and that the actions of unidentified officers grabbing Portland citizens “appeared to violate basic Constitutional rights”.
“This President blusters and bluffs and says he’s going to do things and they never materialise on a regular basis, so we should not overrate his statements, they are so often not true,” he said.
Ms Lightfoot said on Tuesday she had been told that no unidentified officers would be deployed. The Chicago Tribune had reported on Monday that the US Department of Homeland Security would deploy 150 agents to help tamp down violence in the city.
“Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of sabre-rattling about that coming from the President and members of his team,” Ms Lightfoot said. “What I understand… is that the Trump administration is not going to actually deploy unnamed agents in the streets of Chicago.”
Instead, she said, reinforcements would come from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and “plug into” federal agencies already coordinating with the city on crime.
The Portland protests have gone on for more than 50 nights. On Monday, video showed federal agents firing tear gas and protesters pulling down fencing around the federal courthouse.
White House spokesman Kayleigh McEnany said dispatching agents was justified by a federal statute. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said his agents were properly identifying themselves in Portland.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said he would criminally charge any federal agents who arrested citizens without probable cause or restrained them unlawfully.
But Mr Krasner said he was sceptical that Mr Trump would actually send agents to Philadelphia.
“Let us not take these fluffy words and act like they are more than they really are,” he said. “It’s really just bluster.”