The Justice Department responded following Trump’s request for a review of federal funding to cities that have shown an upsurge in vandalism and violent crime.
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday, September 21, identified New York City, Portland and Seattle as “local governments that are permitting anarchy, violence, and destruction in American cities.”
The cities are set to lose federal funding after the White House accused the authorities of the three cities of tolerating localized rioting.
“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.
“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. 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,” Barr added.
As of now, there is no official confirmation on the amount of funding that may be withdrawn from the cities. It also remains unclear whether there is a provision in law to deprive cities of federal funding.
White House budget director Russ Vought is likely to issue guidelines to federal agencies in the next two weeks on revoking funds from the cities.
As per Barr’s memo, the evaluation criteria for identifying cities as jurisdictions permitting violence and destruction of property was based on whether “a jurisdiction forbids the police force from intervening to restore order amid widespread or sustained violence or destruction,” “a jurisdiction has withdrawn law enforcement protection from a geographical area or structure,” or whether “a jurisdiction disempowers or defunds police departments,” among others.
In a memo earlier this month to Attorney General Barr and the Office of Management and Budget, President Donald Trump asked for a review of federal funding to – in the words of the Trump administration – “anarchist” jurisdictions. The president particularly targeted New York City, Portland and Seattle, which have now been named for potential defunding by the DOJ.
The mayors of the three cities targeted in Barr’s memo – Bill de Blasio of New York, Jenny Durkan of Seattle and Ted Wheeler of Portland – released a joint statement calling the Trump administration’s threat to stop federal funding “thoroughly political and unconstitutional” and promised to sue Trump.
“The President is playing cheap political games with Congressionally directed funds. 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,” the statement said.
“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 failure,” the statement added.
US cities on the edge due to a rise in violent crimes
Attorney General Barr’s memo cited shootings and other crimes as the reason behind New York City’s inclusion in the list of “anarchist” jurisdictions.
According to sources, another significant reason for New York City making it onto the DOJ’s list was that the New York City Council in July approved a budget that slashed US$1 billion from the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) annual budget of US$6 billion, even as murders and shootings in the city soared. There was a whopping 177% rise in the number of shootings and a 59% rise in murders in July compared to the same period last year.
The Justice Department also alleged that some of the city’s district attorneys refused to prosecute individuals who had been arrested for indulging in criminal activities during protests.
Meanwhile, the Portland City Council in June voted to cut its police budget by about US$15 million while Seattle reduced its police budget by at least US$3 million in August.
According to the DOJ, Portland witnessed more than 100 consecutive nights of unrest and many incidents of clashes between protesters and police, including destruction of public property.
This was despite Mayor Wheeler’s repeated appeals to the public to remain peaceful, although Wheeler has been blamed for limiting the Portland police’s tactics to control unruly protesters, including banning the use of tear gas.
Trump has been highly critical of Portland authorities, calling it a “Democrat-run” city and accusing Portland authorities of allowing violent crimes to increase.
Several shootings were reported in Seattle after the local government permitted the establishment of a so-called “autonomous zone” by protesters who did not allow police to enter the area for nearly a month. The zone was eventually demolished in July after the situation deteriorated sharply.
The Trump administration’s move to identify cities that have allegedly failed to prevent crime from rising comes amid a summer in which the US has seen a dramatic rise in violent crime against a general decline in levels of violence since the 1990s.
Clashes in several cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer on May 25. The fight for racial justice, in the form of the massive Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, has often turned violent as cases of loot and vandalism during protests as well as unjustified police crackdowns on protestors have widely been reported.
Many Americans have also protested against COVID-19 restrictions in their states. According to observers, the crime rate has been on a steep climb in New York City after the authorities put youth programs on hold and limited social gatherings to control the pandemic.
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