In the midst of unrest across the U.S., Attorney General Bill Barr has vowed that his office will go after rioters who break federal laws. Now, it’s becoming clear that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is the last line of defense for Portlanders whose city has been under attack for weeks on end.
According to Breitbart, the DOJ announced Thursday that 74 individuals have been indicted on federal charges in Portland since May 29 for crimes including damage to federal property, arson, and assault on federal officers.
The DOJ makes its move
The DOJ’s statement on the matter came from U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams of Oregon, who alleged that “[v]iolent agitators have hijacked any semblance of First Amendment protected activity [in Portland], engaging in violent criminal acts and destruction of public safety.”
The protests, which the DOJ said are fighting “against police use of force and anti-Black racism,” first began in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, The New York Times reported. But in Portland and elsewhere, they quickly spiraled out of control.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our federal law enforcement partners are expeditiously working with local and state law enforcement to identify, arrest, and prosecute these individuals that are disrupting the rule of law in our communities and physically attacking our law enforcement officers and destroying property,” Williams said Thursday. “Violent agitators not only delay real reform, but make our community less safe by keeping law enforcement from responding to other critical calls for service.”
Portland prosecutor makes excuses
So what have Portland prosecutors been doing while the DOJ was out arresting violent lawbreakers on their territory? Making excuses for the rioters and ignoring the growing problem, apparently.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who was appointed by Democrat Gov. Kate Brown to fill the position when his predecessor retired on July 31, promptly dismissed charges against hundreds of rioters and, according to Breitbart, excused the unrest as “people’s righteous anger and grief and fury over a system that has not really been responsive enough for decades and centuries.”
“At a time when legitimacy in our criminal justice system is probably at an all-time low, we can’t be seen to be using that very system to silence the speech that is being critical of it,” Schmidt said, as Breitbart reported.
“Are you listening, Portland?”
But trying to set buildings on fire and assaulting police officers is not speech; it’s breaking the law. The right to free speech has limitations, and those limitations include assaulting and injuring people and defacing or destroying property.
It’s a message that Barr’s Justice Department has doubled down on — and the DOJ seems to have President Donald Trump’s support in that regard. The president sent federal reinforcements to Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week to tamp down on protests there that had turned violent — and after seeing success, Trump suggested that Portland should follow suit.
Success: Since the National Guard moved into Kenosha, Wisconsin, two days ago, there has been NO FURTHER VIOLENCE, not even a small problem. When legally asked to help by local authorities, the Federal Government will act and quickly succeed. Are you listening Portland?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2020
According to the DOJ’s Thursday statement, those charged in Portland could be facing “significant maximum prison sentences” of up to 20 years in some cases.