Er … how can the federal law enforcement personnel distinguish between rioters and “legal observers”? Even Portland’s mayor wore a mask and goggles to the riots. A judge issued a two-week restraining order prohibiting federal officers from detaining or arresting journalists or legal observers, but this report from KGW shows just how difficult those distinctions will be when rioters are busy setting fires to federal buildings:
A federal judge specifically blocked U.S. agents from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers at the ongoing Portland, Oregon, protests that have sparked confrontations between local officials and President Trump over the limits of federal power.
U.S. Judge Michael Simon made his ruling late Thursday, a day after Portland’s mayor was tear-gassed by federal agents as he made an appearance outside a federal courthouse during raucous demonstrations. Protesters have gathered in Oregon’s largest city for nearly two months straight since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
This actually got its first real-world test last night, after the media dropped the by-now-familiar “mostly peaceful” description of the demonstration:
The protesters stuck together and chanted after federal troops used tear gas and flash bangs several times against them as some launched fireworks and started a few fires outside the courthouse, reports CBS Portland affiliate KOIN-TV. Until then, it had been a mostly peaceful demonstration attended by what was estimated to be more than 2,000 people.
Just as an aside, “mostly peaceful” is the equivalent of “slightly pregnant” in media-ese. If violence is present, then it is not “peaceful.” “Peace” is the absence of violence. And at any rate, the issue of response didn’t come up until the demonstration went from “mostly peaceful” to a riot where arsonists attempted to burn out the feds.
One reporter got slightly injured by the teargas projectiles, and claimed that the feds were ignoring the injunction:
Feds approaching and just got shot in hand trying to film. Don’t think that TRO worked pic.twitter.com/L2kIEZPDWw
— Rebecca Ellis (@Rjaellis) July 24, 2020
That’s not what the TRO enjoins — or if it is, it’s utterly unworkable. The judge prohibited the feds from knowingly using force on legal observers or journalists. That doesn’t mean that they can’t act to defend federal property, or that journalists within the crowd won’t feel the effects of those countermeasures. Otherwise, the rioters would use reporters as human shields (as one of Ellis’ commenters points out), and the officers guarding the courthouse would be defenseless.
This sounds like an unworkable order for those very reasons. Unless the “legal observers” and journalists present credentials to the officials and stay located in a specific area, they can’t be known to officials unless and until force gets applied in one way or the other. With this order in place, everyone present will claim that status, too. How do federal officials distinguish between them and rioters without credentialing this protected class up front and ensuring that their location is known?