The Justice Department on Monday declared New York, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, “anarchist jurisdictions,” the first step toward revoking federal funding from those cities because they allowed violence and mayhem to persist during racial justice protests.
The designation of the cities, which are all led by Democrats, is in response to President Trump’s order this month to cut off federal aid to places with unchecked rioting in the streets.
He ordered federal funds withheld from cities where state and local officials slashed police budgets, refused help from federal officers and otherwise refused to rein in the violence.
By labeling the cities “anarchist jurisdictions,” Attorney General William Barr escalated Mr. Trump’s conflict with the Democratic leaders. Mr. Trump has been campaigning on a law-and-order platform while blasting Democrats for the rising crime and violence.
Much of the crime and looting plaguing the cities has been increasing since late May, when George Floyd, a Black man, died while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Mr. Barr said the three cities he singled out have “refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities.”
“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,” Mr. Barr said.
“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance.”
The Democratic mayors of the three cities accused the Trump administration of playing “cheap political games.”
“Our cities are bringing communities together; our cities are pushing forward after fighting back a pandemic and facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, all despite recklessness and partisanship from the White House,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a joint statement. “What the Trump administration is engaging in now is more of what we’ve seen all along: shirking responsibility and placing blame elsewhere to cover its failures.”
New York made the list because the number of shootings rose 177% from July 2019 to July 2020, the Justice Department said.
Amid the rising violence, Mr. de Blasio and the New York City Council agreed to cut $1 billion from the city’s police budget.
Portland was included because of its more than 100 consecutive nights of violence and protests since Floyd’s death. Mr. Wheeler, who also serves as police commissioner, has explicitly rejected federal help as the violence increases.
Mr. Wheeler issued a ban two weeks ago on the police’s use of tear gas, drawing a vehement denunciation from his police department, which issued a statement saying tear gas is among the less-violent ways to deal with the type of unrest the city has encountered.
Mr. Wheeler did request that Gov. Kate Brown deploy the National Guard, but she has refused — and also rebuffed Mr. Trump’s demand that she request federal help.
A skirmish between Trump supporters and Antifa activists last month led to the death of Aaron Danielson. A supporter for the right-wing Patriot Payer Group, Danielson was allegedly killed by Michael Reinoehl, a pro-Antifa demonstrator who was killed by authorities days later.
The Portland City Council voted over the summer to trim $15 million from the police bureau’s $242 million budget but rejected a broader $50 million cut.
Seattle, meanwhile, was listed because of its “autonomous zone,” a police-free, six-block area in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Justice Department said.
Seattle voted in August to cut its police budget by roughly $3 million.
Law enforcement was barred from entering the territory where crimes involving people increased by 525% in June from the same period last year, according to the Justice Department.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said she was preparing legal action to fight the designation. She fumed that Mr. Trump was trying to “scare the country” into reelecting him.
“The president should be prepared to defend this illegal order in court, which hypocritically lays out the groundwork to defund New York and the very types of law enforcement President Trump pretends to care about,” she said. “We have beat the president and the illegal actions of his DOJ in court before and have no doubt we will beat them again.”
Jim Johnson, an attorney for New York City, also vowed to fight the order in court.
Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, said the administration will face an uphill battle if the feud moves into federal court.
“There is nothing in the Constitution that says jurisdictions need to take certain actions outlined in the memo,” Mr. Somin told The Washington Times. “Many of the cities handled the riots poorly, but that doesn’t mean the federal government can dictate their policies.”
Mr. Somin compared the battle to the Trump administration’s vow to halt aid to so-called sanctuary cities that have blocked local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
A federal appeals court in May handed the administration a defeat on the issue, ruling that the federal government cannot condition federal funds on local policing decisions.
“Actually withholding the funds may be illegal depending on what the funds are used for,” Mr. Somin said. “If they do go to the next stage, then you would get a court to assess this similar to the sanctuary city issue.”
The Justice Department did not detail which federal funds would be cut from the cities. White House Budget Director Russell Vought is expected to issue guidance to federal agencies in the coming weeks.
Federal funds flowing from the Justice Department are largely doled out by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) and the Office of Justice Programs, which are dedicated to bolstering local law enforcement resources.
The Justice Department did not respond to a question about which grant programs would be on the chopping block.
It is not clear how much funding from those programs goes to the cities on Mr. Barr’s hit list or whether other Justice Department funding programs, such as the Office on Violence Against Women, which hands out funds to combat domestic violence, could be affected.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while blasting the Justice Department decision, said his state receives $7.4 billion in federal funding, although it is not clear how much of that amount comes from the Justice Department.
Mr. Barr said a city can be named an “anarchist jurisdiction” if it forbids police from restoring order amid widespread violence; it has withdrawn law enforcement protection from a geographic area or prevented law enforcement from accessing a certain area; if it has defunded or removed power from the police; or if it refuses to accept assistance of federal law enforcement.
A city also can be added to the list under any other related factors deemed appropriate by the attorney general, he said.
⦁ Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.