Oakland, CA – A coalition of seven cities, including Oakland and New York City, in partnership with the nonprofit Public Rights Project, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records from the Trump Administration related to the threatened and actual deployments of federal agents to progressive U.S. cities.
The request asks for records created after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and in relation to Presidential Executive Order 13933, which purports to permit the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to send federal personnel to “assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.”
After President Trump signed that Order in June, his administration sent more than one hundred federal law enforcement officers to Portland, Oregon, where they violently cracked down on protesters condemning police brutality in the wake of several murders of Black Americans by law enforcement. In the face of the resulting public outcry, President Trump and other federal officials defended their actions and have repeatedly threatened that they would expand these deployments to other cities.
Over the past several months, the Trump Administration has escalated its confrontations with American cities ahead of the November 3, 2020 presidential election. In particular, the administration has targeted cities that have embraced diversity and are working to balance the urgent call for racial justice with their crucial role in maintaining public safety. The Trump Administration’s most recent provocation includes issuing a presidential memorandum that claims to block federal funding to “anarchist” cities, including to FOIA signatories New York, Seattle, and Portland.
“Oakland is sick and tired of not being able to take the federal government at its word,” said Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker. “We are asking this Administration to provide a constitutionally sound explanation for apparently unconstitutional targeting of Oakland and other progressive cities that honor free speech and recognize the critical importance of racial justice. This Freedom of Information Act request is one tool available to us that entitles us to secure that explanation.”
This FOIA request marks the first collaborative effort by U.S. cities to formally seek information about the federal government’s justification for threatening to send or sending federal agents to their home jurisdictions. In addition to records about E.O. 13933, the FOIA request also asks for records from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning the deployment of federal personnel to the cities of Albuquerque, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, and any information about surveillance of those cities’ leaders.
“History teaches us that when the federal government operates without accountability, it often tramples the rights of its citizens,” said James E. Johnson, NYC Corporation Counsel. “With this FOIA request, we intend to use the law to shine a light on the efforts to misuse federal power to target our cities. With today’s filing, we seek to uncover more information about the true motivations behind the president’s aggression against Americans, whether through the action of federal agents in our streets or threats to withdraw support for vital functions like our local police.”
The cities are requesting this information to understand the federal government’s justifications for these unprecedented deployments. There is also significant public interest in learning whether deployments and tactics similar to those used in Portland are being or may be used in connection with the November presidential election.
“The Trump Administration’s deployment of federal agents into our cities is designed to stoke fears, incite violence, and create upheaval. Their intention is not to restore order. This purely political tactic directly harms communities by driving a wedge between law enforcement and community activists, who are working to push needed reforms for racial justice at the local and state levels” said Public Rights Project Legal Director Jonathan Miller. “This FOIA request seeks to uncover the true intentions of the federal government’s operations and show that they have no legitimate purpose.”
DHS and DOJ will have twenty days to respond to the FOIA request. The cities have committed to making any responses publicly available.
In addition to the lead cities of Oakland and New York City, the following cities and counties have joined the FOIA request: Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle.