The Justice Department on Monday labeled three cities “anarchy” jurisdictions — New York, Seattle and Portland, Oregon — on orders from President Donald Trump, making good on the President’s threat to withhold federal aid in response to prolonged civil unrest in those areas.
The Democratic leaders in those cities have largely opposed federal intervention despite some rising crime rates, citing a desire to not escalate tensions.
The announcement is overtly political and is certain to trigger legal challenges. Trump has frequently touted himself as the “law and order” candidate as he seeks reelection in the wake of the summer’s demonstrations over racial justice, even though the overwhelming majority of the protests have been peaceful.
It’s also notable that cities located in Wisconsin or Minnesota — which have seen unrest this summer but are considered competitive in the presidential election — are not included.
“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement on Monday. “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”
In New York City, Barr said both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have “forcefully rejected federal law enforcement support” and has connected the uptick of shootings in July to the “looting and protests.”
While the city of New York has acknowledged a 177% rise in shootings in July 2020 compared to July 2019, the monthly statistics report does not specify the reason for the spike.
“This is just another one of President Trump’s games. Political. Not based in facts in the least. Insulting to people of NYC. Unconstitutional,” de Blasio said during a news conference on Monday.
Jim Johnson, an attorney for the city of New York, said during the news conference that Trump does not have authority to “change the will of Congress” and is prepared to fight in court.
Cuomo also vowed on Monday to challenge the President’s order. He said the state receives $7.4 billion in federal funding.
In Portland, which has seen prolonged demonstrations for nearly three months, tensions were escalated over the summer when federal officers were deployed there over the wishes of the city’s Democratic mayor.
“We don’t need your politics of division and demagoguery,” Wheeler wrote in an August 28 letter. “When you sent the Feds to Portland last month, you made the situation far worse. Your offer to repeat that disaster is a cynical attempt to stoke fear and distract us from the real work of our city.”
In Seattle, Barr said that Mayor Jenny Durkan has reported that there has been 525% increase of “person-related crime” in the area designated for protests near the city’s capitol, yet, along with Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, has “publicly rejected” federal involvement in law enforcement activities.
Wheeler, Durkan and de Blasio said in a joint statement that the order was “thoroughly political and unconstitutional.”
“The President is playing cheap political games with Congressionally directed funds,” the mayors said. “Our cities are bringing communities together; our cities are pushing forward after fighting back a pandemic and facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, all despite recklessness and partisanship from the White House. What the Trump Administration is engaging in now is more of what we’ve seen all along: shirking responsibility and placing blame elsewhere to cover its failure.”
In a statement, Inslee dismissed the move as a “shortsighted political stunt that will further erode public faith in the Trump administration.”
“Trying to strip federal assistance is appalling at a time when Americans are struggling to pay rent and buy groceries because of the White House’s abject failure to defeat COVID-19. The administration would rather deceive and divide through fear tactics than address the real crises families are facing right now,” Inslee said.
In a September 2 memorandum, Trump said he would not allow federal funds to be “unduly wasted nor spent in a manner that directly violates our government’s promise to protect life, liberty and property.”
The list of jurisdictions will be updated periodically in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of Office of Management and Budget.
Several constitutional law experts have told CNN that Trump’s threat to deny federal funding has little legal backbone.