New York, Seattle and Portland are anarchies, Barr says

Tina Davis and Henry Goldman

Attorney General William Barr said New York City, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, aren’t performing the basic functions of government necessary to keep people safe.

The three cities are “jurisdictions permitting violence and destruction of property,” according to a Justice Department press release Monday. The designation stems from a Sept. 2 memorandum by the White House calling on the department and the Office of Management and Budget to identify such areas and restrict federal funds they receive.

“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” Barr said in the release. “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”

Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about Operation Legend at the Dirksen Federal Building Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Chicago.

New York City officials disagreed with the assessment, saying its legality was questionable.

“This is just one of President Trump’s games,” Mayor Bill De Blasio said during a Monday morning news briefing. “It’s thoroughly political, it’s part of his campaign strategy. It makes no sense. It’s not based on the facts in the least. It’s insulting to the people of New York City, and his effort to withhold our funding is unconstitutional.”

Jim Johnson, who heads the city’s Law Department, said the city will fight if federal funds are withheld.

“The president does not have the authority to change the will of Congress,” Johnson said. “We’re prepared to fight this in court if he actually takes concrete steps to withhold federal funds. What we have in New York City is not anarchy. What we have is a city moving forward under difficult circumstances.”