Barr Declares NYC, Seattle, Portland 'Anarchist’ Cities and Threatens Funding Cuts

It's an escalation of the Trump administration's war on cities run by Democrats that have seen huge protests against police brutality this year.
September 21, 2020, 3:57pm
Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

The Justice Department has declared that New York, Seattle, and Portland are “anarchist” jurisdictions and threatened them with a loss of federal funding, another escalation in the Trump administration’s war on cities with Democrat mayors that saw huge protests against police brutality this summer.

All three cities saw large, sustained protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. The cities “permitted violence and destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities,” the Justice Department said in a press release on Sunday.

“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

Barr also issued a direct threat to federal dollars going to those cities, citing a memorandum issued by President Donald Trump earlier this month that orders the heads of federal agencies to find places to cut federal funding for those cities. The list of cities will be “periodically” updated, according to the DOJ.

“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” Barr said. “It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”

New York City received about $5.6 billion in federal funding during the 2019 fiscal year, while Seattle received $365 million and Portland received $252 million, according to the right-leaning transparency group OpenTheBooks.

In a press conference Monday, Bill de Blasio accused President Trump and his DOJ of playing politics.

"This is just another one of President Trump's games. It's thoroughly political. It's part of his campaign strategy. It makes no sense," de Blasio said. "It has not — it's not based in the facts in the least. It's insulting to the people in New York City and his effort to withhold our funding is unconstitutional."

New York City corporation counsel James Johnson added that the city is "preparing to and will be prepared to fight this in court."

New York City’s Independent Budget Office told VICE News that losing that aid would significantly impact the city.

“In recent years, the city has received upwards of $7 billion annually in federal aid," communications director Doug Turetsky told VICE News. "Losing that aid, including about $150 million that supports counter-terrorism work by the NYPD, would be more than just a blow to the city—it would have economic and other consequences regionally and even nationally.”

The offices of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler did not respond to VICE News’ requests for comments. But all three cities made cuts to their police budgets this year, though it was a far cry from fully defunding the police as activists demanded.

The Sunday statement is just the latest attempt by Barr to strong-arm the leaders of American cities—all three of whom have come under fire from activists for the brutality of their police departments during demonstrations—into crushing protests more ruthlessly. The Trump administration also sent federal law enforcement to police various protests in various cities, most prominently in Portland, where the feds threw people into unmarked cars and beat and shot protesters with non-lethal rounds.

Donavan La Bella, a Portland man who was shot in the head with “impact munitions” in July while unarmed and holding a stereo across from the federal courthouse in Portland, underwent surgery again last week due to complications from his injuries, the Oregonian reported.

More recently, Barr asked prosecutors in the DOJ’s civil rights division if they could bring charges against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for allowing Seattle residents to set up the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

In response, Durkan, a former U.S. attorney herself, called the report “chilling” and said that using the DOJ to prosecute Trump’s enemies is an “act of tyranny, not democracy.”

“Ultimately, this is not a story about me. It is about how this president and his Attorney General are willing to subvert the law and use the Department of Justice for political purposes,” Durkan said in a statement following the Wall Street Journal report.

“It is particularly egregious to try to use the civil rights laws to investigate, intimidate, or deter those that are fighting for civil rights in our country.”

Cover: Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference about Operation Legend at the Dirksen Federal Building Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Chicago. Barr said the operation was "critical in cutting Chicago's murder rate roughly in half since before the operation." (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)