Chicago activist groups sue to bar federal agents from protest duties

A collection of Chicago activist groups want a judge to block federal agents sent to the city to combat violent crime from interfering in or policing protests, arguing in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the surge ordered by President Donald Trump will inhibit residents’ ability to hold demonstrations.

The suit names Attorney General William Barr along with the heads of other federal agencies whose agents are part of the surge plan announced at the White House on Wednesday. The announcement did little to calm some Chicago residents’ fear that the agents’ presence will lead to the violent clashes between demonstrators and federal agents seen in Portland.

Aislinn Pulley, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago, said the federal strategy uses crime as an excuse to “stifle righteous rage and anger at the continued killing of Black people by police.”

“We will not be threatened,” Pulley said at a news conference announcing the suit. “We will not be coerced into suppressing our rage.”

The lawsuit also asks a judge to prevent agents in Chicago from making arrests or detaining people without probable cause, along with requiring agents to identify themselves and their agency and explain why someone is being arrested.

The planned surge already has caused some members of the activist groups to draw back from protest plans this weekend, “due to the well-founded fear that they will be brutalized or kidnapped by federal agents,” attorneys wrote.

In Oregon, the state has asked a judge for a similar restraining order against agents deployed to quell protests in Portland. The suit filed by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum accuses federal agents of arresting protesters without probable cause, whisking them away in unmarked cars and using excessive force.

Federal authorities have disputed those allegations.

Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Wednesday also sought to separate the mission in Portland — to protect federal property — from the goal of helping stop violent crime. Barr said the additional agents will focus on “classic crime fighting,” expanding an existing operation that sent federal agents to Kansas City, Missouri, after a 4-year-old boy’s shooting death.

Trump and Barr spoke only of plans in Chicago and Albuquerque during the announcement, but the White House said in a later press release that the program would be expanded in coming weeks into Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee.

Officials in those cities said they oppose any plan that could bring the chaotic scenes from Portland to their own streets. Democratic leaders remain skeptical of the Trump administration’s motivation and uncertain about the agents’ responsibilities.

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers sent Trump a letter Wednesday saying he was “deeply disturbed” to hear about federal agents possibly being deployed to Milwaukee through a television interview with Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows rather than direct communication with his office.

“This is not a moment to double down and unnecessarily increase police presence, especially without invitation,” Evers wrote.

Democratic Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said Thursday that he would take the “appropriate legal action” if agents interfere with peaceful protests.

In Michigan, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said hes “comfortable” that any agents coming to the city will not be under the Department of Homeland Security. Duggan said a focus on gun trafficking cases, though, would be helpful.

Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said he anticipates “a very different type of help than you saw in Portland” coming to Cleveland.

“I don’t know exactly what happened in Portland,” DeWine said. “The idea of people coming in, and there was not the consent of people locally, that would be a problem in Ohio. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have no indication that’s going to happen.”

The Chicago activists’ suit said the Trump administration’s public statements about the agents’ duties mean little compared to the president’s repeated criticism of demonstrators in U.S. cities following the death of George Floyd and unwavering support for federal agents’ presence in Portland.

“Neither the President, Defendant Barr, nor Defendant Wolf gave any assurance that the ‘hundreds’ of federal agents flooding Chicago would leave protestors alone,” the activists’ lawsuit said.

Messages left Thursday for representatives of the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security seeking comment on the lawsuit were not immediately returned.