Washington, D.C., officials hardened their opposition to the expanding federal law enforcement and military presence in the city Friday, demanding that President Donald Trump withdraw forces from the city.
Citing confusion over lines of authority and a dramatic decline in violence at recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city had sufficient resources to ensure public safety.
“We are well equipped to handle large demonstrations and First Amendment activities,” said Bowser in a letter to Trump dated Thursday, adding that the mass deployment of federal law enforcement officers and heavy equipment was serving to “inflame” demonstrations rather than secure them.
“This multiplicity of forces can breed dangerous confusion,” Bowser said.
For days, the enlarged military presence, with hundreds of additional troops on standby at posts outside the city, have not only frayed tensions between municipal and federal authorities but also exposed dissent within the Trump administration, where the president has threatened to deploy active-duty troops to “dominate” the streets where some protests had turned violent.
As of this week, officials in 31 states had activated 30,000 National Guard members to assist state and local law enforcement in support of civil unrest operations across the country in the aftermath of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis at the hands of local police officers. Hundreds have poured into the district in the past week. In addition to the 39,000 deployed to assist the COVID-19 pandemic, the deployments have surpassed the guard’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
Further clouding the chain of command in the capital, the Trump administration has weighed a federal takeover of D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, which has long secured demonstrations, inaugurations and other special events across the city.
In her letter, Bowser also announced the end of a state of emergency the city, noting that protests in recent nights have remained largely peaceful. She said police reported no arrests in the city last night.
Tensions between the city and federal government have been building throughout the week, as the Trump administration has requested National Guard assistance from several governors.
On Thursday, Bowser vowed to fight the expanding federal presence, warning authorities in plain terms to back off.
“Know this, at no time is the mayor going to support the federal government directing MPD,” Bowser told reporters.
At that time, she also said municipal legal advisers were exploring the federal government’s authority for requesting National Guard help for the district, without seeking city approval.
Meanwhile, Trump has tapped Attorney General William Barr to coordinate a massive federal law enforcement response that has drawn officers and agents from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons and immigration enforcement units from the Department of Homeland Security.
Some of the officers, Bowser and others have said, have been deployed in uniforms that do not identify agency affiliation.
“Our police and incident command have clear channels of communication and roles, and it is important to note that these additional unidentified units are operating outside of established chains of command,” Bowser said in the letter to Trump, noting the recent deployment of a military helicopter engaged protesters in “war-like” tactics with low-flying maneuvers to “frighten” protesters.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said authorities were investigating the helicopter’s deployment.
In addition to Bowser’s letter, Washington Attorney General Karl Racine sent inquiries to state officials requesting information about guard deployments to the district. New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Missouri, Indiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah have reportedly sent National Guard troops to the district. Another query was sent to Trump administration officials, including Barr and Esper, asking that they outline the specific missions of out-of-state troops and federal officers.
“The district government has received very little information about the legal basis for these entities’ presence,” Racine wrote.
Bowser has previously said she does not oppose the presence of out-of-state law enforcement officials, as long as they stay within federal boundaries and don’t cross into district streets.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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