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Seattle mayor calls Trump’s response to protests ‘un-American’

Protesters and police again clashed in a number of U.S. cities over the weekend, including Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. President Trump has defended sending federal law enforcement to the cities, but many local officials say their presence is only exacerbating the existing unrest. Amna Nawaz reports and talks to the mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan, about what she’s seeing in her city.

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  • Judy Wodruff:

    Protesters and police again clashed in a number of U.S. cities over the weekend.

    In Portland, Oregon, the Trump administration is reportedly sending more federal agents to the city to deal with nightly confrontations there, according to The Washington Post.

    As Amna Nawaz reports, some of the crowds who initially protested the killing of George Floyd are now also confronting an intense federal force.

  • And a note:

    This report contains some violent audio and images.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In the pre-dawn hours on the streets of Portland, clashes intensified between protesters and federal agents.

    Those agents used tear gas to try and disperse crowds from a federal courthouse. The building has become a rallying point for protests against police violence.

  • Man:

    I just came here to try to hold the people who are supposed to be keeping us safe accountable for their atrocious actions that they have been committing on the city.

  • Protesters:

    Black lives matter!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Since the killing of George Floyd, Portland's seen regular demonstrations, overwhelmingly peaceful, against police brutality and racial injustice.

  • Protesters:

    Feds, go home!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But since the arrival of federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security three weeks ago, tensions have escalated…

  • Protester:

    This is not right!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … leading to more confrontations in the streets. A Sunday demonstration that began peacefully ramped up overnight.

    Protesters shot fireworks at the courthouse and officers responded with tear gas. Demonstrators held umbrellas as shields and used leaf blowers to push back the gas.

    Today, Portland police say they found Molotov cocktails and loaded rifle magazines in a park. On Sunday, acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said, what federal agents faced was beyond — quote — "normal criminal activity."

  • Acting Secretary, Chad Wolf:

    They're coming armed with rocks, bottles, baseball bats, power tools, commercial grade fireworks, eliciting that violence and targeting their violence on federal courthouses and federal law enforcement officers.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Earlier this morning, President Trump defended the administration's response, tweeting: "We are protecting federal property."

    Though peaceful protests continue across the country, Portland is one of a handful of cities that saw episodes of violence this weekend. In Seattle, social media video shows police pepper-spraying protesters. One officer swings at a demonstrator with a club.

    In Oakland, California, protesters lit a courthouse on fire. In Richmond, Virginia, vehicles were set ablaze. Outside Denver, in Aurora, Colorado, two people were shot and wounded after a car drove through a protest.

    And in Austin, Texas, one protester was shot and killed, after a motorist plowed into the crowd. Police say the driver was also the gunman. Federal authorities blame protesters and say the violence justifies their increased presence.

    But demonstrators and many city leaders say that presence is only making matters worse.

    As we mentioned, Seattle is one of the cities that has seen street demonstrations grow in both size and intensity in recent days.

    Jenny Durkan is Seattle's Democratic mayor, and joins me now.

    Mayor Durkan, thanks for making the time, and welcome to "NewsHour."

    We should note that a lot of protesters in Seattle said they were out in the streets because of what they saw unfolding in Portland. Now that the administration says that there's going to be more federal agents going to Portland, what do you think the effect will be in your city, in Seattle?

  • Jenny Durkan:

    I think it is going to have a negative impact in Seattle and in Portland and in cities across the country.

    I have talked to other mayors, and a number of people saw escalating protests, both in size and in intensity. And, in Seattle, people clearly said they joined because of what was happening in Portland.

    In fact, the largest protest was designated as a protest in solidarity with Portland. I think adding agents is the wrong direction in Portland. I think that we need to have a strategy that does not escalate tensions, but actually resolves them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you about some of your conversations with the administration, though, because you have been in touch with the acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf. You said it was as recently as Thursday afternoon you made it clear you don't want federal agents coming to Seattle.

    By Friday, there were reports that federal agents had deployed a tactical team to Seattle. So, help us understand, when and how did you learn that there were federal agents in your city?

  • Jenny Durkan:

    So, on Thursday, I spoke with the acting secretary, made it clear to him what our position was. And he told me that they were not going to surge agents to Seattle, that he did not see the need to do so.

    We then learned shortly after that from media reports that agents had indeed landed in Seattle. We asked for clarification. We have gotten some assurances that they are they're just on standby, if there is the need at a federal property.

    But we have had additional conversations both with the United States attorney here, with the Department of Homeland Security. And we have also asked for congressional help, because we want to have clear understanding of what the federal agents are going to be doing here.

    The worst thing for Seattle would be if things escalated like they did in Portland. And we really want to avoid that. We're urging all protesters to be peaceful, but we're also urging the federal government, please, we don't need you to take the steps here in Seattle that you're taking in Portland. It's the wrong thing for Seattle.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mayor Durkan, to be clear, since there are already federal agents in your city, do you know how many there are, what their mandate is? Do you know if they have already been operating in any way or arrested anyone?

  • Jenny Durkan:

    To our knowledge, they have not arrested anyone, nor have they been doing any visible operations. We have not had any direct protests at those federal facilities. So it is unclear how many agents are there or what posture they would take.

    It's one reason we are continuing to ask for clarification from the Department of Homeland Security, to make sure that we don't see the kind of surge and escalation here in Seattle that we have seen continually in Portland.

    But we also are planning as if that could occur and taking the steps we need to do to make sure that community understands what the — what the potential is, and really asking people to protest peacefully.

    You know, you — we want to make sure that not only do we have not have that kind of escalation, but it seems in Portland that there are two people — and the federal government is intent on having the fight. And there are some people in that crowd who are intent on giving them the fight.

    And I — we don't want that happening in Seattle.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mayor Durkan, I should point out, your critics will point to the fact that, for weeks, protesters several weeks ago had basically taken control of a few downtown city blocks.

    Your police chief had to go in earlier this month with heavy machinery and riot gear to clear that area. There was already concern about violence over the weekend. The police chief called it a riot on Saturday night.

    Do you think that the presence of federal forces could help quell these protests before they get out of control, and something similar to what happened before happens again, where protesters are able to take over some chunk of city space?

  • Jenny Durkan:

    I think that when you saw that the area on Capitol Hill that we were able to return to normal, that our police were able to go in there and clear that area with very little conflict and restore it back to a place that all the neighborhood and businesses could enjoy it.

    Contrast what's going on in Portland, where, night after night after night, it is proven that what they're doing is not working. They have not quelled anything. To the contrary, they have escalated it.

    So I do not believe that there's any evidence whatsoever that any of the strategies that the president is trying to employ will lead to peace. And I don't think he wants it to.

    He's been very clear that what he is doing is targeting cities that are led by Democrats to show that there can be division and the lack of law and order, so that he can run on that as a president.

    That kind of political maneuvering of law enforcement really is un-American. And I think it's dangerous for us to go down that path.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mayor Durkan, very briefly, you weren't told before the current federal team that's on the ground in Seattle was sent in. Do you have any assurance you will be told in advance of any further deployment?

  • Jenny Durkan:

    So, the assistant secretary did say he would call the chief of police and myself if the posture changed.

    But I know that — look, there's one person who's guiding the activities of this administration, and that's the president of the United States. And so, regardless of assurances that anyone else might give me or any other local government official, we have to take the president at his word.

    And he keeps escalating his rhetoric, and then the behavior follows that rhetoric. And so, as a mayor of a city, I will tell you, I do need the federal government's help. I need more testing for COVID-19. I need to make sure that, as this health emergency gets worse, that my hospitals can withstand it.

    I need the kids who are hurting not going to be back in school to be able to learn. That's the kind of help we need from this federal government that we don't get.

    A president should step forward and lead the nation. And, instead, he's dividing the nation. And I think it's a really dangerous time for America to be on this point of inflection in our history. And what — our choices today will decide what happens for generations of Americans to come.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is the mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan, joining us tonight.

    Thank you so much, Madam Mayor.

  • Jenny Durkan:

    Thank you very much.

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