Trump considers 'more federal law enforcement' for Detroit protests

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

President Donald Trump indicated Monday he is considering sending more federal law enforcement into several cities, including Detroit, to help quell ongoing police brutality protests.

In recent days, the president has deployed federal forces to Portland, where early Monday morning they used tear gas to disperse protesters who had approached a federal court house and then set a fire outside the courthouse.

The presence of federal officers in the city after days of protests following the death of George Floyd has upset some leaders, but Trump said they've done "a fantastic job in a very short period of time."

"I'm going to do something — that, I can tell you," Trump said from the Oval Office Monday. "Because we're not going to let New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore ... we're not going to let this happen in our country," he said at a Monday White House event, noting all of the cities were run by "liberal Democrats. 

"We're going to have more federal law enforcement -- that, I can tell you," he said, and later added: "These are anarchists; they're not protesters." 

Detroit's protests have been mostly peaceful and have not resulted in recent violence. Mayor Mike Duggan's office did not agree that more help is needed in Detroit. 

"Detroit is one of the few large cities in the country that has experienced no fires, no stores looted and never requested the National Guard during the protests," Duggan spokesman John Roach said. "Not sure where the president is getting his information."

In a Monday joint statement, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel criticized Trump's efforts to "suppress the voices of those he doesn't agree with" as "un-American." 

Whitmer said federal troops are not needed in Michigan. 

"Quite frankly, the president doesn't know the first thing about Detroit," she said. "If he did, he would know that for nearly two months now, Detroiters have gathered to peacefully protest the systemic racism and discrimination that Black Americans face every day."

Trump is using his authority "as a cudgel to punish those who use their constitutionally guaranteed rights to express views he disagrees with," Nessel said. 

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, vowed on Twitter Monday that federal law enforcement would "have to arrest me first if they think they're going to illegally lay their hands on my residents."

Demonstrations against police cruelty and racial injustices have been happening in Detroit and around the country since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American who died beneath the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. Aside from momentary flare-ups, Detroit has avoided the violence and destruction seen elsewhere.

Detroit, which last year reported the highest violent crime rate in the United States, saw pockets of disorder and dozens arrested during the first few days of protests that began in the city May 29. 

Although the demonstrations that followed over the next month were largely peaceful, tensions flared again June 28, when a police car struck protesters during an anti-police brutality march. Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the officers had to take "evasive action" and called some of the protesters "agitators" who initiated the incident by damaging the SUV.

An investigation was opened on the officer driving the vehicle as well as those who appeared to attack the SUV, Craig said. In response, protesters gathered three successive days at a city precinct building to demand that the officer be fired and charged with a crime, but tensions have since subsided.

The Associated Press and Staff Writer George Hunter contributed