Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
To deal with the police brutality protests in Washington, D.C., Attorney General William Barr sent in prison officers specially trained to quell riots — the same unit deployed during the unrest caused by Rodney King’s beating in Los Angeles in 1992. And that’s not the only help from federal officers Barr is getting.
At least one police line guarding the White House on Wednesday “featured a patchwork of colors and agents wearing generic outfits,” according to a HuffPost report published Thursday. In recent days, journalists and protesters have reported that some of these officers have refused to say which agency they’re from.
At least some of the officers were with the Bureau of Prisons, which polices federal corrections facilities, according to CBS News and HuffPost. In a statement, the BOP said its “Crisis Management Teams” are carrying badges but not wearing BOP uniforms “as they are serving a broader mission.”
Some of the BOP employees are members of its Special Operations Response Team (SORT), which the BOP said are “highly trained tactical units capable of responding to prison disturbances, and providing assistance to other law enforcement agencies during emergencies.” In 1992, the BOP deployed 20 SORT teams to Los Angeles during the unrest caused by Rodney King’s violent beating by LAPD officers. Barr was the attorney general in 1992, too.
Speaking with HuffPost, a Justice Department official said the decision to bring in BOP officials now was an example of Barr’s “outside-the-box thinking.”
The BOP also reportedly sent teams to Miami, to the bewilderment of local officials there. Miami-Dade County police director Freddie Ramirez said there were originally supposed to be 110 federal agents, but that ultimately 23 were sent and were just saying at a hotel because “they were told that they weren’t needed.”
“I was unaware they were here,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said on Tuesday. “We didn’t ask them to be here. We told them we didn’t need them here. There is no reason for them to be here.”
‘We cannot tolerate an American secret police’
The BOP isn’t the only federal agency that’s been involved in policing the protests.
Two officers from the U.S. Park Police were placed on administrative duties pending a full investigation, after video showed them attacking Australian journalists on Monday. And in a press release earlier this week, Barr thanked the “FBI, Secret Service, Park Police, ATF, DEA, Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service, Capitol Police, Department of Homeland Security’s CBP and Border Patrol units, and others” for policing the District of Columbia during the protests.
At least a few congressional Democrats expressed alarm at the lack of identification on federal officers. Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia called it “unacceptable,” and is reportedly working on legislation with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton that would require federal law enforcement officers to disclose their names and agencies while patrolling protests, according to HuffPost.
The total number of federal LEOs patrolling the protests in D.C. is unclear. House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, sent a letter to Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and other Cabinet-level Trump administration officials on Wednesday formally requesting more information on the various agencies policing the protest, HuffPost reported.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, meanwhile, said Wednesday that he would introduce legislation to “require uniformed federal officers performing any domestic security duties to clearly identify what military branch or agency they represent.”
Cover: Federal security forces in riot gear block 16th Street at I Street in front of the White House as the George Floyd and police brutality protests continue in Washington on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)