NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with Gov. Kate Brown about rising tensions between protesters and federal forces. “The Trump administration needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives,” Brown says.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We’re going to begin today with the ongoing protests in Portland, Ore., where police declared a riot last night after protesters set fire to the Portland Police Association building and launched fireworks at other buildings in the city. Protest against police violence and other social injustices have been taking place in Portland for nearly two months, but these latest events come after federal law enforcement officers went into the streets in Portland last week in camouflage and tactical gear.
Protesters say they were roughed up, and some were detained in unmarked vans with little information about who was detaining them or why. Officials in Oregon are demanding that the Trump administration withdraw those forces. And in Washington, D.C., key Democratic lawmakers are now demanding an investigation into the administration’s use of force against protesters. But President Trump is not budging, tweeting today that Portland’s leaders have, quote, “lost control of the anarchists and agitators,” end quote.
This situation is obviously volatile, and so we have the governor of Oregon with us now, Kate Brown. She is in the state capital of Salem. Governor Kate Brown, thank you so much for talking with us.
KATE BROWN: Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: First of all, would you just give us an update on the situation in Portland today?
BROWN: Obviously, things are very challenging right now. I was very, very clear with the Trump administration and the head of the Homeland Security to take their federal troops off the streets of Portland. The Trump administration needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives. We don’t have a secret police in this country. This is not a dictatorship. And Trump needs to get his officers off the streets.
MARTIN: Well, you’ve made it very clear that you believe that these forces are escalating the situation – that they’re actually making it worse. Now, there’ve been more than 50 consecutive days of protests in Portland against police brutality and other injustices, as has taken place in other cities. Well how do you respond to the president who says that this situation is not in control now and that his efforts are aimed at restoring order?
BROWN: There’s absolutely no question that by having the presence of federal officers here, it’s simply like adding gasoline to a fire. I was very, very clear when I spoke with the head of Homeland Security earlier this week that the situation had been improving over the past several weeks and that their presence here substantially escalated the situation. We know what’s needed is de-escalation and dialogue. That’s how we solve problems here in the state of Oregon.
And honestly, this is about scoring political points. It’s about political theater. It’s clearly not about problem-solving, and it’s obviously not about public safety. Last weekend, a young man was almost killed. This has been extremely challenging, and it’s time for the Trump administration to pull their troops and go on home.
MARTIN: Just to clarify for people who may not be aware of the situation, when you’re talking about the young man who was almost killed, it’s my understanding that he was actually hit in the head by a round that is supposed to be non-lethal, but that that was deployed inappropriately – that he was hit in the head. He shouldn’t have been hit in the head. And this was done by a federal – by a marshal. Is that correct?
BROWN: That is correct. And obviously, he was protesting peacefully. He was doing nothing to provoke the situation. Our federal delegation has called for an investigation.
MARTIN: You’ve called the deployment and the tactics of federal law enforcement officers in Portland an abuse of power. And as you indicated, the state is suing. Is your main objection that these troops are acting inappropriately, that they are poorly-trained, that they are somehow ill-matched to the situation…
MARTIN: …Or is it that they don’t have the legal right to be there to begin with?
BROWN: I’m going to take all of the above. Look. The Trump administration deployment of federal officers on the streets of Portland is a mere distraction from the president’s failure to lead this nation through a global pandemic. Now he’s deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland. It is a blatant abuse of power by the federal government. They are inappropriately trained. And frankly, they’re exacerbating an already challenging situation.
MARTIN: As you indicated, you’re dealing with another crisis, and that is the ongoing health crisis that much of the country and much of the world, in fact, is still dealing with. I notice that there was also a demonstration at the Capitol – I think it was a day or two ago – with people who were protesting wearing masks. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
BROWN: Yes. We certainly have Trump supporters across the state that are opposing my order to wear face coverings. The science is extremely clear regarding face coverings. You can protect yourself, and you can protect others around you. It’s not only being smart – it’s being thoughtful and considerate of your fellow Oregonians. But again, putting patrol officers on the streets of Portland is a distraction from the president’s failure to lead on this pandemic – to lead a national, coordinated response on this pandemic.
If the president had come out early saying, we need everyone wearing face coverings – you can protect yourself, you can protect others – I suspect we wouldn’t see the level of protests that we’re now seeing. We are trying to avoid closing down businesses in Oregon. Oregon, like many other states, is seeing rising infection rates. And we know that face coverings, masks, are a tool to keep infection rates down.
MARTIN: That’s the governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, speaking to us from the Capitol in Salem.
Governor Brown, thank you so much for talking with us.
BROWN: Thank you. Be safe out there. Wear your face covering, wash your hands and maintain your physical defense.
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