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Progressives Hit Back After DOJ Designates New York, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon 'Anarchist Jurisdictions'

"This is not just unlawful but it's also a prime example of this president's failed leadership and desperation," Rep. Pramila Jayapal said of the DOJ designations. 

Socially-distanced park-goers in Brooklyn, New York on September 13, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images)

People enjoy a relaxing, socially-distanced summer Sunday in Domino Park in Brooklyn, New York City on September 13, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images) 

The Department of Justice on Monday designated New York City, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon as "jurisdictions permitting anarchy, violence, and destruction," prompting many critics to fire back with accusations of Trump administration authoritarianism and calls to impeach Attorney General William Barr. 

The DOJ move is in response to a September 2 memorandum from President Donald Trump accusing several state and local governments of contributing to "violence and destruction in their jurisdictions by failing to enforce the law, disempowering and significantly defunding their police departments, and refusing to accept offers of federal law enforcement assistance." In the memo Trump vows to "not allow federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones."

"Within 30 days...the director of the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] shall issue guidance...on restricting eligibility of...anarchist jurisdictions in the receipt of federal grants," the memo states. 

The criteria for evaluating whether a city is an "anarchist jurisdiction" were as follows:

  • Whether a jurisdiction forbids the police force from intervening to restore order amid widespread or sustained violence or destruction.
  • Whether a jurisdiction has withdrawn law enforcement protection from a geographical area or structure that law enforcement officers are lawfully entitled to access but have been officially prevented from accessing or permitted to access only in exceptional circumstances, except when law enforcement officers are briefly withheld as a tactical decision intended to resolve safely and expeditiously a specific and ongoing unlawful incident posing an imminent threat to the safety of individuals or law enforcement officers.
  • Whether a jurisdiction disempowers or defunds police departments.
  • Whether a jurisdiction unreasonably refuses to accept offers of law enforcement assistance from the Federal Government.
  • Any other related factors the attorney general deems appropriate.

"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," said Barr. "We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance."

A congresswoman representing most of Seattle and the mayor of the largest of the three "anarchist jurisdictions" were among those who quickly fired back at the administration.

"This is not just unlawful but it's also a prime example of this president's failed leadership and desperation," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said of the DOJ's designations. "Amidst Covid-19's devastation, people need more relief—not less. Yet Trump would prefer to turn your attention away from real crises by fearmongering and fanning racism."

"This is just another one of President Trump's games," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters. "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," De Blasio added. "And his effort to withhold our funds is unconstitutional."

Many Democrats and progressives took to Twitter to reject the administration's characterization of the targeted cities and the memo's implications. Some called for Barr's impeachment. 

Others noted that the "anarchist jurisdictions" have far lower violent crime rates than many other U.S. cities, including Republican-run cities like Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, Miami, and Fort Worth.

Some New Yorkers greeted the news that they lived in an "anarchist jurisdiction" with characteristically acerbic wit:

Trump has had a contentious relationship with the mayors of all three cities. He has accused De Blasio of doing a "horrible" job, and has called Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler a "fool."

Barr, for his part, recently asked federal prosecutors to explore possible criminal charges against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for allowing protesters to temporarily establish the police-free Capital Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) earlier this year. 

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