The Mayor of Washington D.C. has demanded President Donald Trump remove the “military presence” from her city.
In a letter sent to the White House, Muriel Bowser said the presence of federal law enforcement officers on the streets of the US capital was “inflaming” protesters and actually adding to the security risks.
“I have ended the state of emergency in the District of Columbia related to demonstrations. The protesters have been peaceful, and last night, the Metropolitan Police Department did not make a single arrest. Therefore, I am requesting that you withdraw all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from Washington,” Ms Bowser wrote.
She said the city was “well equipped” to handle large demonstrations.
“I continue to be concerned that the unidentified federal personnel patrolling the streets pose both safety and national security risks,” the Mayor said.
“The deployment of federal law enforcement personnel and equipment are inflaming demonstrators and adding to the grievances of those who, by and large, are peacefully protesting for change and for reforms to the racist and broken systems that are killing black Americans.
“Our police and incident command have clear channels of communication and roles and it is important to note that these additional, unidentified units are operating outside of established chains of command. This multiplicity of forces can breed dangerous confusion such as when helicopters are used in a warlike tactic to frighten and disperse peaceful protesters.”
She said she was particularly concerned about the units that have not been wearing any identifying insignia.
“When citizens are unable to clearly identify legitimate law enforcement officers, it creates unnecessary risks for both protesters and officers. In fact, we found many years ago that conflict between police and citizens is reduced when law enforcement affiliation is apparent,” said Ms Bowser.
“My view is that law enforcement should be in place to protect the rights of American citizens, not restrict them.”
She said she appreciated Mr Trump’s “prompt consideration” of her request.
The President responded on Twitter, and his answer was no.
Mr Trump called Ms Bowser “incompetent” and threatened to “bring in a different group of men and women” if she didn’t treat the National Guard well.
While somewhat vague, that last part seemed to be a reference to Mr Trump’s assertion earlier this week that he would “deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them” if local leaders failed to crack down on protesters and “dominate the streets”.
As Washington D.C. is a district, not a state, the US federal government has more power there than it would in, say, New York.
That is why we have seen so many federal law enforcement officers on the streets there this week. There have been almost 6000 of them, representing a wide range of agencies including the Secret Service, Park Police, the FBI, the US Marshals Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Protective Service.
The only military presence is the National Guard.
Some of those federal officers were at the centre of Monday’s dramatic scenes near the White House, as police used force to clear a crowd of peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Park so Mr Trump could walk through it.
At a press conference yesterday, Ms Bowser said she was “very concerned” that the police perimeter around the White House had expanded “too far” throughout the week, pushing the demonstrations further and further back.
“The very first thing is we want the military – we want troops from out-of-state out of Washington,” the Mayor said, adding that the city had not requested the “federal military assets” which are under the Trump administration’s control.
“Keep in mind that (the White House) is the people’s house. It’s a sad commentary that the house and its inhabitants have to be walled off.”
She was backed up a fellow Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“We are concerned about the increased militarisation and lack of clarity that may increase chaos,” Ms Pelosi said in her own letter to Mr Trump.
“I am writing to request a full list of the agencies involved and clarifications of the roles and responsibilities of the troops and federal law enforcement resources operating in the city.
“Congress and the American people need to know who is in charge, what is the chain of command, what is the mission, and by what authority is the National Guard from other states operating in the capital.”
In another show of defiance against Mr Trump, today Ms Bowser changed the name of a plaza outside the White House to “Black Lives Matter Plaza”. She also unveiled a massive mural, painted on a nearby street, bearing the same message.
“As Washingtonians, we simply all want to be here together in peace to demonstrate that in America, you can peacefully assemble, you can bring grievances to your government, and you can demand change,” she told a crowd as she toured the street.
“There was a dispute this week about whose street this is,” the Mayor’s chief of staff John Falcicchio tweeted.
“Mayor Bowser wanted to make it abundantly clear that this is D.C.’s street and honour demonstrators who were peacefully protesting on Monday evening.”