In the latest episode of President Donald Trump’s months-long effort to paint liberal cities as violent, lawless hellholes, Attorney General Bill Barr on Monday declared that New York City, Seattle and Portland were “permitting anarchy.”
The new label from Barr came three weeks after the President ordered the attorney general to identify local governments “that are permitting anarchy, violence and destruction in American cities.” Trump’s order itself also singled out New York, Portland and Seattle.
In a statement, Barr made a vague threat about stripping federal funds from the cities as punishment, though it’s still not clear what form that would take. The U.S. Conference of Mayors said in a letter earlier this month that Trump’s order “has no legal standing” and that any move to defund cities would be challenged in court.
“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” Barr said, accusing local leadership of impeding law enforcement.
“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,” he added.
In Trump’s Sept. 2 order to Barr, instructing him to identify cities that were “permitting anarchy,” the President said his administration would seek to strip funding from cities “that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones.”
Trump was more direct on Twitter, calling out “weak mayors” that “let anarchists harm people.”
But the administration’s criteria were scattershot and included “whether a jurisdiction disempowers or defunds police departments” and whether a jurisdiction “unreasonably refuses to accept law enforcement assistance from the Federal Government” — as well as “any other related factors the Attorney General deems appropriate.”
For now, Barr said, New York, Seattle and Portland fit the bill. He ticked through each city’s sins.
New York, the attorney general noted, “transfer[red] of certain police functions, including school safety, out of the NYPD.” And Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Barr whined, “have forcefully rejected federal law enforcement support.”
In Portland, where this summer’s surge in federal forces came despite local opposition, Barr noted the city council’s June vote to slash $15 million from the police budget. (The current police budget is more than $240 million, and COVID-19 has gutted tax revenue.)
Barr cited the short-lived “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” as partial grounds for condemning Seattle. And, of course, he noted that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) “publicly rejected federal involvement in law enforcement activities within the city of Seattle.”
Correction: This article originally misstated Jay Inslee’s title. He is the governor of Washington, not Oregon.