By Steve Herman
Federal law enforcement agents are being dispatched to two additional American cities to crack down on a surge of killings.
“This bloodshed must end. This bloodshed will end,” President Donald Trump said in the White House East Room, announcing the expansion of what is called “Operation Legend.”
The federal action began two weeks ago in Kansas City, Missouri, resulting in 200 arrests, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said, and will now expand to Albuquerque in the state of New Mexico, and in the country’s largest Midwestern city – Chicago in Illinois.
About 200 federal personnel will be sent to Chicago – about the same number that went to Kansas City – and 35 to Albuquerque.
“Help is on the way,” Trump said to the people of Chicago.
The dispatches of the federal law enforcement officers are opposed by city leaders in Albuquerque and Chicago.
Trump’s announcement is a “political stunt,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters.
The mayor characterized the president’s action as an attempt to distract from his failure to handle the coronavirus pandemic and with Trump, his reaction to any challenge is to “denigrate, divide and disparage,” she said.
On Tuesday night, the violence recorded in Chicago included a gunbattle between gang members at a funeral that wounded 15 people and the shooting of a 3-year-old girl.
According to Trump, cities such as Chicago, run by members of the Democratic Party, have “abdicated their duty” and embraced “the extreme radical left” to defund police departments.
“Under Operation Legend, we will also soon send federal law enforcement to other cities that need help,” he said. “My administration will be working to remove dangerous offenders sprung loose by these deadly policies and, frankly, by these deadly politicians.”
Trump and Barr were joined for the announcement by heads of several federal law enforcement agencies, as well as relatives of those slain in Kansas City and Albuquerque.
“I’m very proud to stand with you in this struggle,” Trump said.
The violent crime rate in U.S. cities has been declining over the years, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics.
In 1992, the rate was double what it is today, Barr said at the event, crediting the drop since then to the use of federal laws and task forces to go after gangs.
The attorney general said the crime rate began going up again during the end of the administration of the previous president, Barack Obama, and the current rise is “a direct result of the attack on police forces.”
Trump has emphasized “law and order” as he finds himself fighting for re-election against former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“In this political environment, I believe federal forces would be incendiary. And if there is a reason, a justification, the state can handle it,” New York Governor Mario Cuomo said on MSNBC Wednesday. “In this political environment, to send in federal troops would be pouring gasoline on a fire.”
Cuomo said he had made his concerns known to the president on Tuesday.
Operation Legend is not part of the controversial use of federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security to quell unrest in Portland, Oregon.
That northwestern U.S. city saw federal forces deployed there in early July. Since then, what had been smaller ongoing protests against police brutality and racial injustice have grown and become more tense, with clashes between protesters and federal personnel, and allegations of federal forces taking people away in unmarked cars without cause.
Federal officials have defended the deployment as necessary, saying local leaders and law enforcement failed to stop vandalism and violence against federal officers at the U.S. courthouse in Portland.
“Whether or not it’s legal, it’s highly controversial, and it’s being fought in the courts on a range of fronts and being condemned by prominent Republicans,” Omar Wasow, professor of politics at Princeton University, said.
Regardless of whether Trump’s use of federal law enforcement holds up in court, his re-election campaign is already using conflict as a way to advance his agenda.
“Clearly, they think it’s a good campaign issue for them,” Wasow told VOA.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has filed one of several lawsuits opposing the deployments and the conduct of the federal officers.
“These actions if not restrained will further escalate. They are in fact escalating,” Rosenblum told U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman Wednesday.
It is not clear when Mosman will rule on the state’s request for him to issue a temporary restraining order.
David Chipman, a senior policy adviser at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told VOA that when he was an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “I was proud to work with local leaders when they needed help righting wrongs,” but that Trump’s recent actions in Portland and his statements about problems in other cities “make clear he thinks federal law enforcement are his personal chess pieces for partisan power grabs.”
Chipman added he is “saddened and angry that Trump seems to care more about directing agents to shield monuments than people protesting for their rights.”
Also Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a letter to Barr and Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, objecting to the presence of federal law enforcement in New York City.
“We do not consent. We object. Do not send the proposed agents and officers from the Department of Homeland Security or other federal agencies to New York City,” the mayor said in his letter. “They have not been requested. They are not needed. And they have proved to bring way more harm than good.”
On Tuesday, a group of 15 mayors, including Lightfoot in Chicago and Ted Wheeler in Portland, from major U.S. cities sent a letter to the federal government calling for the immediately withdrawal of its forces and “agree to no further unilateral deployments in U.S. cities.”
Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.