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Walsh rips Trump administration for sending federal agents to respond to protests in Portland, Ore.

Federal police dispersed protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland on Monday.
Federal police dispersed protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland on Monday.Nathan Howard/Photographer: Nathan Howard/Gett

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Tuesday blasted the Trump administration for sending federal agents to respond to protests in Portland, Ore., saying he would not welcome a similar presence locally, and adding his voice to a chorus of mayors calling for a congressional probe of the matter.

“That behavior and that type of so-called help is not welcome here in the city of Boston,” Walsh said during a briefing outside City Hall.

His remarks came as some academics warned that a “potential constitutional crisis” was looming over the actions of federal officers in Portland, where they clashed with protesters without the consent of local authorities.

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Walsh condemns federal action in Portland
Mayor Walsh blasted the Trump administration for sending federal agents to protests in Portland, Ore., saying he would not welcome a similar presence locally. (Photo: Stuart Cahill/Pool, Video: Handout)

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has said in court papers that masked federal officers have arrested people on the street with no probable cause, no warrant, no warning nor explanation, and without providing “any way to determine who is directing this action,” and whisked them away in unmarked cars.

Rosenblum said she was seeking a temporary restraining order to “immediately stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.”

Constitutional law experts said federal officers’ actions in the progressive city are a “red flag” in what could become a test case of states’ rights as the Trump administration expands federal policing.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security was planning to deploy about 150 of its agents to Chicago, an official told the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, Walsh waded into that fray, signing a letter with a number of other US mayors stating that such federal action “violates fundamental constitutional protections and tenets of federalism.”

At the City Hall news conference, the Democrat called the Portland deployment of federal agents, whom President Trump has said will be sent to other cities as well, “a political ploy by the president.” Walsh said his office had no information that Boston would be targeted with a response similar to what happened in Portland from federal authorities.

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Demonstrations have been held in many US cities including Boston in recent weeks and months to protest the high-profile killings of Black people by police officers in Minneapolis, Louisville, and elsewhere.

The Boston demonstrations, Walsh said Tuesday, have been largely “peaceful with very few exceptions,” and he commended Boston police for preserving public safety “while protecting free speech rights.”

“We will continue to live by our values of inclusion and respect here in the city of Boston,” Walsh said, adding that federal agents’ actions in Portland exacerbated tensions there.

“I don’t think ... inciting violence is the way to do it, and that’s quite honestly what happened in Portland,” he said.

He said that the situation in Portland reflects a president who does not understand or believe in rights like free speech.

Trump on Monday said that federal officials “have done a fantastic job” in Portland. The federal agents have ostensibly been sent in to protect a federal courthouse, though the scope of their response has been more broad.

Former Homeland Security officials say they’ve seen nothing like the Portland deployment, which has included using Border Patrol agents to confront protesters. One former commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection said such agents are not trained for crowd control and civil unrest.

Walsh added that he has joined other US mayors in seeking the withdrawal of the federal agents from Portland as well as more information about them from Congress.

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In the letter to congressional leaders, the mayors urged federal lawmakers to “immediately investigate the President and his administration’s actions,” saying that the unilateral deployment of these forces into American cities is unprecedented and that such deployment shows a “shocking disregard for the legitimate use of our US military and federal resources, as well as the authority of local law enforcement.”

”We are a nation of laws and fundamental constitutional guarantees,” stated the letter, which was signed by Walsh and the mayors of Seattle, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, among others.

In a separate letter to the US attorney general and the acting homeland security secretary, the mayors stated that their communities “have expectations for law enforcement, including identification of officers, training, and recorded body camera footage, among many other expectations and policies.”

”These expectations are being blatantly disregarded by federal forces,” the letter states.

Also on Tuesday, Walsh urged Boston residents to continue taking precautions against COVID-19, telling reporters that scenes such as the weekend crush of people at M Street Beach could hamper the city’s effort to move forward with its gradual reopening.

Walsh warns against beach crowding
Mayor Walsh warned packed beaches could stifle Boston's efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Stuart Cahill/Pool, Video: Handout)

Turning to the recent spike in gun violence that has plagued the city, Walsh said two teenagers were fatally shot Sunday in Mattapan and a third teen was severely wounded in a separate shooting in Roxbury. Boston has seen 30 homicides so far this year, up from 23 at the same point last year.

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“Violence of any kind is certainly unacceptable in our communities,” Walsh said. “When young people are victims, it’s especially devastating.”

He said city officials, nonprofit partners, and others are “working around the clock to reach young people and adults who are at risk and offer them pathways to safety and opportunity.”

In response to a question, he added that there is no correlation between a recent $12 million reduction to the Boston police overtime budget and recent violence in the city. Walsh said that while some instances of violence in the city were isolated, others were not.

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, who was not at Tuesday’s news conference with Walsh but was present at City Hall Plaza, told the Globe: “We just want everyone to know in the middle of the pandemic, in this civil unrest, we will continue to do our jobs.

“No matter the funding or overtime cuts, we were there,” he said of recent incidents of violence.

Gross said that there continues to be substantial anti-police sentiment in the wake of George Floyd’s slaying, adding that local police were being blamed for “things happening outside the Commonwealth.”

“It’s our job,” said Gross, “to prove to the communities that we serve that we’re not another Minneapolis.”

Material from Bloomberg and the Associated Press was used in this report.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.