Officials in Portland, Oregon, said that the federal government owes the city nearly $200,000 over a federal courthouse fence that’s become the scene of nightly protests.
The city Bureau of Transportation filed a cease and desist order over the fence, which obstructs a downtown street, and is assessing the federal government $500 for every 15 minutes that it remains in place, Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said Tuesday.
“As of yesterday, the federal government owes us $192,000 and counting,” Eudaly said. “We intend to collect.”
“Typically, we would send a maintenance crew or contractor to remove such an obstruction, but I will not send workers into harm’s way,” she added.
The Department of Homeland Security, which deployed federal agents to the city earlier this month to defend the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse amid protests following the police custody death of George Floyd, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Eudaly referred to the agents as an “occupying force.”
The move comes on the same day that Attorney General William Barr defended the Trump Administration’s decision to dispatch the agents. Recent protests against racial injustice and police violence following Floyd’s May 25 killing were “hijacked” by “violent rioters and anarchists,” Barr said.
The administration is “trying to protect federal functions and federal buildings,” he said.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, meanwhile, said the agents “sharply” escalated tensions between officials and protesters, “leading to more violence and more vandalism.”
The city’s nightly protests have typically begun peacefully, featuring groups like the “Wall of Moms” and the “PDXDadPod” marching and chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Feds go home.” Later in the night, small groups of people wearing black and carrying umbrellas have lobbed fireworks at the courthouse and lit fires.
Protesters have accused agents of deploying pepper spray and tear gas and destroying food and medical supplies. Peaceful protesters have described being taken by agents who didn’t identify themselves and didn’t tell the protesters why they were being detained.
Civil rights activists, meanwhile, pleaded to “bring the focus back” to racial injustice, as the local chapter of the NAACP has put it.
“I want us to remember why we’re here,” one advocate told protesters last week. “What’s happening downtown is not a Black issue. This is a battle between two white supremacy entities: the Trump administration and the local city of Portland.”