Much to the chagrin of local and state-level officials, President Donald Trump (R) recently ordered the deployment of federal troops to Chicago and other major cities where protests against police brutality and homicides have taken place over the past few weeks.
Trump announced the plan, titled “Operation LeGend,” amid clashes between military personnel and protesters in Portland, Oregon, that have even resulted in the bodily harm of the city’s mayor.
The potential for more use of military force against unarmed protesters has raised concerns among many people, but perhaps none more than D.C. residents who have long experienced various forms of federal government intrusion.
“We [already] don’t have control over a ton of our affairs [when it comes to] law enforcement, and our judicial system. The mayor got gun cases going over the federal court system,” said Ameen Beale, a lifelong District resident who lives in Southeast, as he reflected on how the District has often relied on the federal government to tackle local crime.
“The feds are not accountable to the people,” he added.
Beale, a Navy veteran, likened the occupation of federal troops in major American cities to the campaigns he witnessed firsthand abroad in the early 2000s before and after the 9/11 attacks.
In June, not long after George Floyd’s death sparked uprisings across the nation, memories of those experiences resurfaced when he saw uniformed officers, local and federal, behind the Metropolitan Police Department’s Seventh District police station gearing up and preparing to support comrades positioned throughout downtown D.C.
“This has been happening since my childhood. It was scary seeing the National Guard on the corner when you stepped outside,” Beale said. “There would be three homicides and they would have a spotlight on the corner — that does a lot to your psyche as a child.
“That was a common occurrence,” he said. “No kind of violence is good, but I know where we came from to where we are now, and federal intervention invites a lot of collateral damage, and lack of accountability to the communities that they occupy.”
In June, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) wrote Trump a letter requesting that he remove the occupying forces — including 1,200 heavily armed military personnel and armored vehicles — scattered throughout much of downtown D.C., where protesters coalesced in opposition to the police-related death of Floyd and others.
Trump took to Twitter shortly afterward and called the mayor incompetent and combative toward the National Guard.
The feud between Bowser and Trump morphed into the formation of Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House and an increasingly stronger rallying cry for D.C. statehood. Some local protesters however have said that Trump and Bowser are more alike than Bowser would like to acknowledge, especially as it concerns MPD’s conduct toward protesters.
For instance, the alleged nighttime beating of curfew-breaking protesters on Swann Road in Northwest raised eyebrows among members of the D.C. Council. For some protesters, another incident involving MPD officers and a first aid station in Black Lives Matter Plaza further heightened long-held skepticism about local law enforcement serving as a protective force.
Artist-activist Kymone Freeman, who provided a firsthand witness account of that situation on his social media platform, channeled his emotions in an online piece last month.
“As humans, all of us are physically vulnerable. From the dawn of humanity, we have engaged in collective activity to reduce that physical vulnerability,” Freeman, co-founder of We Act Radio in Southeast, wrote on June 6. “Police, in theory organized to reduce our common vulnerability, have instead become an instrument of increased physical vulnerability of some humans simply because of the color of their skin.”
On Saturday, protesters who stormed a courthouse in Portland tore down a steel fence — the strongest of three fences erected around the building since protests started — after going toe to toe with military personnel yielding tear gas and other projectiles for several days. The ongoing melee, which mirrored similar occurrences in Seattle, Aurora, Colorado, and other cities have elicited cries of domestic human rights abuses.
While she condemned the Trump administration’s latest exercise of power, local organizer Alexis McKenney noted that the Obama administration used federal resources in the same manner during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and other epicenters of Black resistance during President Barack Obama’s second term.
McKenney said acknowledging this reality has since compelled her and others to unite around various means of helping Black people outside means reliant on the local and federal government.
“We’re seeing so much hysteria in Portland because these are majority white cities experiencing brutality from armed troops that Black people have always faced,” McKenney, an organizer for Bread for the City and DC Mutual Aid, told The Informer. “In Baltimore, people were concerned about the CVS instead of the people affected by the techniques [these forces] used on protesters.
“It doesn’t seem like more force than what has happened historically,” she said. “It’s dangerous to attribute this kind of state violence solely to Trump. This is how the U.S. has always reacted to uprisings.”