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How Different Cities Respond To Ongoing Protests


Eight weeks after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests for racial justice continue around the country, most of them nonviolent. Yesterday President Trump threatened to deploy federal law enforcement to other big cities like Chicago and New York after agents were sent to Portland to respond to unrest there. But today, the Department of Homeland Security downplayed that possibility, saying that the situation in Portland is, quote, "unique." Meanwhile, protesters and local officials in Portland say the federal presence has only escalated the tension.

Here to talk us through these issues is Jonathan Levinson from Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland and NPR's Cheryl Corley in Chicago. She covers law enforcement. Hello to both of you.



CHANG: All right. Let's start with Jonathan. Let's start with the press conference that acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf just gave. What exactly did he have to say today?

LEVINSON: Yeah. Wolf defended the role of federal officers, saying that they're here to protect buildings. And he denied reporting based off an internal DHS memo that some of the officers aren't trained in riot control or demonstrations. He also denied that federal officers didn't identify themselves when pulling protesters off the streets. That's despite firsthand accounts from people who have been arrested and video posted online. He said these officers had probable cause and the authority to make arrests, and he said that they acted appropriately. At least one of the protesters who was arrested in this manner hasn't been charged with any crime. And overall, this isn't likely to quell any of the anger about their presence here.

CHANG: OK. So the protesters where you are, they've been out on the streets since early June. How has those protests evolved in the last couple of months?

LEVINSON: Well, federal officers made a big - started showing up around July 1 and made a big show of force on the 4. And so far, their presence has really only served to escalate tensions. Now, clearly there are two different views of things. Wolf characterized protesters as - he said, you know, every night there's 500 or 600 violent criminals. But last night, for example, there were probably about a thousand moms and dads out singing and out there sort of putting themselves between the police and the protesters. So there are more people showing up, and they come from a broad cross section of the city.

CHANG: And what kind of changes are these protesters asking for?

LEVINSON: The demands have been pretty consistent and have centered on issues of racial justice. I spoke to one protester, Kai-Ave. He's 22 and is Indigenous, Puerto Rican and white. He's been out protesting since the second day. He said protesters are most focused on either defunding or abolishing the police. So things like - he was saying, things like wellness checks or school resource officers or, you know, he joked about enforcing, like, lawn height codes out in the suburbs. You don't need armed police officers to do those things.

I also spoke with a woman, Bev Barnum. She is - she helped organize and pulled together all these moms that showed up. She posted on Facebook a couple of nights ago after she read reporting about the officers grabbing people off the street. And she started doing more reading. It was the first she had heard about it. She hadn't really been following the protests. She said she became so mad she couldn't sleep. And this is what she had to say last night during a march downtown.


BEV BARNUM: We're planning on coming back until there's no one left to protect, and that's the goal. As long as the kids are out here, we'll be out here.

LEVINSON: And a couple hours after that, a group of those moms were at the very front last night when federal officers charged out of the courthouse, teargassed the crowd and fired hundreds of impact munitions at them.

CHANG: All right, let's turn to Cheryl now. The president had threatened to send federal agents to Chicago. How have officials in Chicago responded to this?

CORLEY: Well, there's been a lot of discussions about what could be happening if those folks showed up. Mayor Lightfoot said that she'd had discussions with the federal district U.S. attorney here and other federal officials. And while federal agents may not be on their way, especially in light of all the problems that occurred with them in Portland, the mayor says even if the Department of Homeland Security is now downplaying the possibility of folks coming to Chicago, that she and the city remain on guard. And this is what she had to say.


LORI LIGHTFOOT: I don't put anything past this administration, which is why we will continue to be diligent and why we will continue to be ready. If we need to stop them and use the court to do so, we are ready to do that.

CORLEY: And Lightfoot said she's talked to the governor and the state attorney general, and they're basically all on the same page.

CHANG: And real quick, what specifically is driving the protests in Chicago?

CORLEY: Well, I think it's just like in the rest of the country. What protesters here are calling for is defunding the police, shifting money to other areas, and they've called for getting police out of schools, and they've also pushed for getting rid of at least one memorial. There was a very big contentious and wild protest here over a statue of Christopher Columbus. So those sorts of things are what they're looking for.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Cheryl Corley in Chicago and Jonathan Levinson from Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. Thanks to both of you.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.
Karen Michel
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