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Gov. Jared Polis says Colorado hasn’t requested federal troops — but he won’t hesitate to if they’re needed

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signing a bill. (Gov. Jared Polis/Facebook)

Gov. Jared Polis made clear Thursday that Colorado hasn’t asked for and doesn’t need federal troops to respond to local protests against police brutality and systemic racism. But he didn’t rule out the possibility of seeking such help from the president.

“The state of Colorado has not requested troops for any purpose,” Polis said at a news conference. “If we need them, I won’t hesitate to call upon President Trump, to call upon federal support. But the National Guard is doing great work and we have additional capacity on the National Guard side, by the way.”

Later in the day, the Democratic governor’s office sent The Denver Post a statement in which Polis reiterated that he hasn’t sought assistance, adding, “We do not want federal law enforcement in Colorado.”

Debate over whether federal troops should be deployed to Colorado heated up Thursday amid growing anger about federal and state responses to protests and property damage across the country — particularly President Donald Trump’s use of federal officers in Portland, Oregon, despite opposition from local leaders.

On Thursday, state Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican, sent a letter to Trump asking him to send federal agents to Denver as part of the U.S. Justice Department’s Operation Legend. The same day, all of Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers signed a letter to U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn opposing any deployment of federal officers to Colorado without the state’s consent.

The opposition to federal deployment stems from reports from Portland of unidentifiable agents driving in unmarked vehicles, grabbing protesters and detaining them. The Department of Homeland Security sent federal agents there after an executive order from the president directed agencies to protect federal property. Videos and photos have circulated showing agents using tear gas and other tactics on protesters, including grabbing them off the streets.

Trump also announced, in what officials said was a separate effort, the deployment of hundreds of federal agents and officers to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, as part of the continuation of Operation Legend to combat local crime. Federal law enforcement officers previously were sent to Kansas City, Missouri, as part of that operation.

“Putting oil on a flame”

Polis noted at his news conference Thursday that as the state’s commander-in-chief, he’s activated the Colorado National Guard to help with COVID-19 testing and contact-tracing efforts, and those troops have additional capacity if needed. The governor said he would call on the state’s National Guard to help with other efforts, including preventing violence, if needed before turning to federal troops not under his command.

“In the areas that they have sent troops, it obviously was like putting oil on a flame,” Polis said. “It clearly makes the situation worse, escalates it.”

That’s part of the reasoning Democrats used in their letter to oppose such efforts.

“We call on you, the United States Attorney and President Trump’s designee over federal law enforcement in our state, to take any and all appropriate steps to ensure that such unnecessary escalation and imposition does not occur in Colorado,” the Democrats wrote. “We also encourage you to use your position of influence within the administration to raise concerns about what appears to be intentional acts of intimidation with your colleagues across the country and the federal administration.”

In a statement to The Denver Post in response to the Democrats’ letter, Polis said the images from Portland are “deeply troubling and should be concerning to every American regardless of political affiliation.”

“I am disturbed to learn that anyone is pushing for the potential violation of people’s Constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights,” he said.

Williams, however, wrote in his letter that deadly crime was on the rise in Colorado, and, “sadly, the violence is being largely ignored by radical Democrats who are in a position to stop it.” He cited a recent rally in Denver at which he alleges pro-police demonstrators were attacked by “Antifa.”

Williams also pointed to the vandalism to the state Capitol and denounced how long it’s taken to clean it up, a concern shared by many of Colorado’s Republican lawmakers.

“Symbol of the government”

On Thursday, Colorado House Republicans also sent a letter to Polis requesting Colorado National Guard troops be deployed to the state Capitol and to Denver’s Liberty Park to prevent further vandalism and assist police in detaining anyone who tries to breach the construction fencing currently surrounding the Capitol.

Repairs are already going to cost in excess of $1 million and Coloradans “do not need to be re-injured with every night the grounds are left unsecured,” the letter stated.

“It’s not just a building. It’s not just a bunch of stone and marble,” said Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, who spearheaded the effort. “It’s a symbol of the government and the state.”

The governor on Thursday said he has “zero tolerance for unlawful behavior” and thinks those who have defaced buildings should be apprehended and charged by their local jurisdictions. He said Denver police has been working to do that, but can do better, and Colorado is working to expand state troopers’ jurisdiction in Denver.

Rep. Leslie Herod, a leader in Denver’s protests and a Denver Democrat, opposed any federal troops being sent to the city, saying that decision should be left up to the governor and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

“We should not quell people’s First Amendment rights to protest and have their voices be heard,” she said. “We should absolutely not use resources, military resources, against people who are exercising their constitutional rights to lift up their voices and demand change.”

Herod said she wishes those fighting so strongly for protecting property would fight as strongly for Black lives and the sanctity of people’s lives.


© 2020 The Denver Post