The sudden appearance outside Camden Yards Tuesday of white vans belonging to the Department of Homeland Security caused a brief stir on Twitter as residents wondered if President Donald Trump was making good on his promise earlier in the week to send “federal law enforcement” into cities controlled by what he called “liberal Democrats” and the “radical left,” including Baltimore.
While it turned out to be “regularly scheduled training for Secret Service and DHS … related to canine bomb detection,” according to a statement from the Maryland Stadium Authority, the concern is hardly misplaced. For weeks now the Trump administration has deployed federal agents — many without proper training or local consent — in urban areas throughout the country including San Diego, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Washington, D.C.; and Portland, Oregon, to aggressively and, some claim, illegally control protesters decrying racism and police brutality.
Given that such protests in Baltimore have largely been a model of how to peacefully get a point across, the suggestion of any politically motivated influx of outsiders — especially those arriving in unmarked vehicles and grabbing people off the streets like we’ve seen in Portland — should be viewed with deep suspicion and thoroughly vetted by Maryland officials.
But so far, we’ve heard little from the governor and Baltimore’s mayor regarding the pronouncement — no public pleas for details, attempts to contain it or even turn it around to our advantage, as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has tried to do. After initially threatening to sue the president if he forced the feds on her city without permission, Ms. Lightfoot shifted course to welcome additional resources as long as the effort was collaborative and chiefly targeted to criminal drug activity fueling violent crime in that city, not protesters.
“I sent a letter to the president yesterday outlining various ways in which, if he really wanted to partner with us, that he could do so,” Ms. Lightfoot told the Chicago Tribune, a sister paper of The Baltimore Sun. “What we do not welcome, and what we will not tolerate, and we will fight against is the deployment of unnamed federal special secret agents onto our streets to detain people without cause and effectively take away their civil rights and their civil liberties without due process.”
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum last week filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and others alleging agents violated citizen rights by seizing and detaining people without probable cause. Last week, a peaceful protester was shot in the head with a less-lethal weapon by federal agents, her office said, and another man was grabbed from the sidewalk by undercover officers in military fatigues and held at a federal courthouse.
“The federal administration has chosen Portland to use their scare tactics to stop our residents from protesting police brutality and from supporting the Black Lives Matter movement,” Ms. Rosenblum said. “Every American should be repulsed when they see this happening. If this can happen here in Portland, it can happen anywhere.”
That should be a wake-up call for Maryland, but only some have recognized it. Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott asked the City Solicitor to explore the potential for blocking federal agents, though that’s unlikely to get far. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told a Sun reporter his office “would resist” intervention, and Comptroller Peter Franchot called such federal occupation of American cities unwelcome, “fascist tactics” at a Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday.
At the same meeting, however, Gov. Larry Hogan simply said he didn’t “know what [President Trump’s] comment was even about” and has “heard no real details about anything happening in Baltimore,” where protesting has been peaceful. And in a separate interview with a Sun reporter that same day, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young dismissed the idea of intervention as unnecessary.
May we remind the mayor that not too long ago he was raising the alarm about “white vans trying to snatch up young girls,” which turned out to be a bogus threat. Now that real unmarked vans are pulling people off of American streets with the power of the presidency behind them, it’s curious that he’s got nothing more to say.
Given Donald Trump’s history of making promises without making good on them (see forcing Mexico pay for the border wall, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and reducing tax brackets from seven to three), it’s understandable that officials might think this is more grandstanding by a politician desperate to retain his position. But we can’t risk it.
Baltimore has real law enforcement needs, and the top leaders in the state and city should take a proactive rather than reactive stance regarding any offer of federal intervention. Now is the time to reach out and set parameters, before it’s too late.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.