The mayor of Portland demanded President Donald Trump remove militarised federal agents he deployed to the city after they arrested many people far from the monuments they were sent to protect.

Federal law enforcement officers face off with protesters against racial inequality in Portland, Oregon, US on July 17, 2020.
Federal law enforcement officers face off with protesters against racial inequality in Portland, Oregon, US on July 17, 2020. (Reuters)

Rights activists and lawmakers have expressed outrage over reports that federal agents circulating in unmarked cars in the western US state of Oregon were grabbing and detaining protesters off the streets.

"What is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US," said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon on Friday. "Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street, we call it kidnapping.

"The actions of the militarised federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered," he added.

Get your troops out of the city – mayor 

The mayor of Portland demanded President Donald Trump remove militarised federal agents he deployed to the city.

“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a news conference.

Federal officers have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests so far, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported Thursday.

Some have been detained by the federal courthouse, which has been the scene of protests. But others were grabbed blocks away.

“This is part of the core media strategy out of Trump’s White House: to use federal troops to bolster his sagging polling data,” Wheeler said. “And it is an absolute abuse of federal law enforcement officials.”

Arrests sans explanation

According to interviews conducted OPB, federal law enforcement officers have been driving around downtown Portland and detaining protesters with no explanation since at least July 14.

Mark Pettibone, a 29-year-old demonstrator, recalled being terrified when an unmarked minivan pulled up next to him early Wednesday and men with green military fatigues jumped out and detained him.

"It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel," Pettibone told The Washington Post. "It was like being preyed upon."

Pettibone said he was taken to the federal courthouse and later released without being told why he had been detained, or whether he had been charged with a crime.

In a statement on Friday, US Customs and Border Protection said its agents were behind the arrest carried out as they "had information indicating the person in the video was suspected of assaults against federal agents or destruction of federal property."

"Once CBP agents approached the suspect, a large and violent mob moved towards their location," the agency said in a statement sent to AFP. "For everyone's safety, CBP agents quickly moved the suspect to a safer location for further questioning."

"The CBP agents identified themselves and were wearing CBP insignia during the encounter," the statement added. "The names of the agents were not displayed due to recent doxing incidents against law enforcement personnel who serve and protect our country."

READ MORE: A look at US statues toppled for symbolising racism

'Political theatre'

Federal officers have been deployed in Portland as part of President Donald Trump's plan to crush nightly protests outside the city's federal courthouse and another court building.

The protests against racism and police brutality were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and have taken place across the country for more than six weeks.

"A peaceful protester in Portland was shot in the head by one of Donald Trump's secret police," Senator Ron Wyden wrote in a tweet on Thursday that also denounced Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security who visited Portland the same day.

"Now, Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponising the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media," Wyden said.

The governor of the state, Kate Brown, also hit out at the Trump administration.

"This political theatre from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety," she wrote in a tweet. "The president is failing to lead this nation. Now, he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government."

Source: AFP