The Trump administration on Monday declared that U.S. Attorney General William Barr has the power to label any city in the United States an “anarchist jurisdiction” based on any factors he “deems appropriate.”
Barr applied the label to Seattle on Monday, saying that the six-block Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area, which was cleared nearly three months ago, has pushed the entire city into the realm of anarchy.
Barr also labeled New York City and Portland “jurisdictions permitting violence and destruction of property,” citing local efforts to cut police department budgets in New York and the weeks of often violent protests in Portland.
The designations come as President Donald Trump has increasingly seized on this summer’s protests against police brutality and systemic racism as fuel for his reelection campaign. He’s pounced on images of property destruction and violence from some of the protests, warning ominously that the clashes happening under his watch are a harbinger of what’s to come in “Joe Biden’s America.”
The moves could also be the first step in a push by the administration to cut federal funding to the cities, all of which have opposed Trump politically. Earlier in his administration, Trump attempted to cut federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” like Seattle, which largely refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Those defunding efforts have largely been blocked by courts.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, in a statement, said Monday her office would be staying focused on the city’s four crises: The coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn, “the greatest civil rights reckoning in decades” and climate change.
“The Trump administration’s threats to defund Seattle, Portland, and New York are a gross misuse of federal power and blatantly unlawful,” Durkan said. “Trump, the Department of Justice, and Barr’s obsession with Seattle and me is irrational and most importantly, a huge distraction.”
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said his office has filed 20 felony charges related to this summer’s protests and that four cases now being handled by federal prosecutors were first filed by his office.
“This allegation suggests that laws are not being enforced in King County, which could not be further from the truth,” Satterberg said. “This official DOJ designation seems more of a political statement than a factual one, and we were never contacted by them for any actual data.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that his office is “reviewing the legality and the implications of this action by the Trump Administration.”
The Justice Department, in a news release, listed several criteria that, in its estimation, make a city “anarchist.” Those include defunding police departments and refusing to accept the offer of federal agents from the Trump administration. They also include: “Any other related factors the Attorney General deems appropriate.”
In Seattle’s case, the Justice Department cited the CHOP area, which was cleared in early July after about three weeks when, following days of often hostile clashes between police and protesters, Seattle police largely abandoned a six-block area. At least two people were killed in or near the CHOP.
The Justice Department cited Durkan’s own order, that she issued when CHOP was cleared, which said “person-related crime” had increased 525% in the area compared to the same period in 2019.
The Justice Department also said the city “refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities,” even though the city had cleared the CHOP.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, accused the Trump administration of “fearmongering and fanning racism” to turn people’s attention away from the coronavirus pandemic and the economic destruction it has wrought.
“Now, the Trump Administration is doubling down on its politicized attacks by threatening our federal funding altogether,” Jayapal said in a statement. “This is not just unlawful but it is also a prime example of this president’s failed leadership and obvious desperation.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Barr was “creating false narratives to score political points.”
“Attorney General Barr should be doing his day job and upholding the civil liberties of Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, disabled Americans, and all others,” Cantwell said.
The new designations come after Trump issued a memorandum earlier this month instructing that federal funds should “to the maximum extent permitted by law” not go to cities his administration labels “anarchist.”
It’s the latest attempt by the administration to restrict federal funding from going to largely Democratic-run cities whose policies the president disagrees with. Trump has, since the earliest days of his administration, sought to block federal funding from going to cities that don’t cooperate with federal authorities on immigration enforcement.
Earlier this year, Trump said that coronavirus aid should not go to “sanctuary cities.”
At least five federal circuit courts have heard Trump’s arguments for blocking funds, and four have blocked his moves.
As recently as April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the Trump administration cannot block funds from going to such cities.
“States do not forfeit all autonomy over their own police power merely by accepting federal grants,” the court wrote. “The Attorney General cannot
pursue the policy objectives of the executive branch through the power of the purse or the arm of local law enforcement; that is not within its delegation.”