Citing increased fears of an authoritarian crackdown, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Eleanor Holmes Norton announced Monday they are introducing a bill this week requiring federal law enforcement officials to wear identification when on duty or serving the public.
The United States of America should not have secret police.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 20, 2020
Federal agents are expected to head to cities around the country over the next few weeks—a deployment that would follow at least a week of operations in Portland, Oregon as part of what is widely seen as a rollout for a more intense and nationwide effort.
"Unidentified internal security forces are apprehending American citizens, and accounts allege these apprehension processes are more similar to overseas renditions than traditional arrests."
—Irvin McCullough, Government Accountability Project
In June, demonstrators in Washington were cleared from a park near the White House by federal law enforcement officers so President Donald Trump could have a photo op at nearby St. John's Church.
"Secret police snatching Americans off of street corners and shooting rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators is something we would expect to see in an authoritarian state, not outside the White House," Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. "Yet, that is our current reality."
"This bill will increase accountability and oversight for law enforcement," she continued. "Currently, law enforcement can violate an American's First Amendment right with complete anonymity. If an officer violates their agency's policies, their victim should have the ability to report them to their agency and demand accountability."
Ocasio-Cortez and Norton—the congresswoman for the District of Columbia—are expected to introduce the bill (pdf) later in the week.
As The Nation's Ken Klippenstein, who broke the news of the bill, reported:
The bill would require on-duty federal agents to display not just the name of their agency but also the individual agent's last name and identification number. It would also mandate a new form of oversight for the Justice Department, requiring its inspector general to conduct routine audits to ensure compliance with the legislation. The results of these audits would then be reported to Congress.
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"It's absolute insanity that this isn't a basic requirement already," tweeted journalist Adrian Crawford.
Government Accountability Project deputy director of legislation Irvin McCullough told Klippenstein that the lack of accountability is raising concerns as officers from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies are increasingly involved in domestic law enforcement.
"Lots of lawyers are asking the same thing: Where's the transparency?" said McCullough. "Unidentified internal security forces are apprehending American citizens, and accounts allege these apprehension processes are more similar to overseas renditions than traditional arrests."
"Citizens deserve to know who's arresting them—or at least what entity—to report any abuses they suffer or witness," McCullough added.
On Monday, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News that he was not going to be constrained by local officials who do not want his agents in their cities, as happened in Portland.
"I don't need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job," said Wolf. "We're going to do that, whether they like us there or not."
"I don't need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job. We're going to do that, whether they like us there or not.” — acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf pic.twitter.com/Rr2P8q6Ut1— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 20, 2020
Attorney Max Kennerly welcomed the Ocasio-Cortez/Norton bill.
"We do not need nor want anonymous people asserting they have government authorization to use violence, and we do not need nor want a government that evades accountability by acting through anonymous agents," tweeted Kennerly.