A day after President Donald Trump announced that over 200 federal officers will swarm into Chicago, representatives of the city’s Black Lives Matter chapter and affiliated movements have filed a lawsuit to prevent what they consider the repression to come.
Black Lives Matter v. Wolf, filed on Thursday in Chicago federal court, seeks an injunction “permanently enjoining” Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security personnel from using violence against protesters, making arrests without probable cause, concealing the identities of themselves or their agencies while conducting arrests, and other tactics used in Portland.
Their suit has urgency behind it, as weekend protests for Black liberation are scheduled to begin tomorrow.
“It feels supremely urgent because the Chicago Police Department has been brutalizing Chicago folks since the May 30 uprising, and having the feds in Chicago come in and turn this into Portland, adding additional forces to the most policed large city in the nation, is going to be incredibly dangerous, incredibly brutal and incredibly violent for the heroic protesters who are demanding the defunding of police,” said Amika Tendaji, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago.
“Our request for relief relates to the activities of federal agents here in Chicago. It’s not that they not be deployed here, it’s about their activities when they’re here,” added Theresa Kleinhaus of Chicago’s Loewy and Loewy firm, one of several attorneys behind the lawsuit.
Trump, Acting Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, and Attorney General Bill Barr are portraying what they call Operation Legend as an anti-crime and anti-violence campaign distinct from the suppression of protests in Portland. They blurred their message on Wednesday by justifying their deployment on a climate of hostility to police they attributed to the massive protest movement around the country—rather than the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and thousands of other Black people throughout American history.
In any event, Chicago’s Black Lives Matter and its allies consider Operation Legend a pretext for “a hostile takeover of U.S. cities” that will involve cracking down on protesters.
Black Lives Matter, the Black Abolitionist Network, the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, anti-violence network Good Kids/Mad City, activist/art network #LetUsBreathe Collective, faith-based community network Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, and the Chicago branch of the National Lawyers Guild “are likely to be subjected to constitutional violations” during Operation Legend, including “violations of their First Amendment rights and false arrests and detentions,” they write in their suit. They’re supported by the In These Times union, an affiliate of the NewsGuild, of which this reporter is also a member.
Their lawsuit recaps the histories of Chicago police’s “excessive force and false arrest” during the post-George Floyd demonstrations—“using tear gas and pepper spray, dragging protesters through the streets, punching protesters in the face, stomping on protesters on the ground, and beating protesters severely”—as well as earlier protests. It reminds the court that the police operate an off-the-books detention warehouse, Homan Square, where over 7,000 predominantly Black and Latino Chicagoans have been placed in incommunicado detention.
They called Chicago police and Mayor Lori Lightfoot “unable and unwilling to protect protesters,” as the police department “intends to work with the federal agents.”
The harsh tactics visited upon Washington, D.C., and Portland—cities Trump decried as run by “radical-left Democrats”—amount to what the suit calls a “federal policy of conducting illegal arrests” that it seeks to prevent from reaching Chicago.
“[N]either the President, Defendant Barr, nor Defendant Wolf gave any assurance that the ‘hundreds’ of federal agents flooding Chicago would leave protestors alone. At no time did they acknowledge that the federal government had overstepped in Portland,” the suit writes.
In the wake of the ongoing Portland operation, Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police president urged Trump’s intervention. On Thursday, the national FOP president, Patrick Yoes, issued a statement supporting Operation Legend. Yoes cited “a crisis of confidence in our law enforcement agencies and a significant lack of morale in our police departments—all of it driven by increasingly divisive rhetoric.”
But Kleinhaus, one of the attorneys behind the suit, said, “There’s no question it’s unconstitutional for federal agents to interfere with peaceful assembly, the press, and legal observers there to document the activities of law enforcement at the protests.”
“I believe the rest of the country should take to the digital streets, on their Twitter on their Facebook, and tell Trump to remove the feds from Portland and any other city,” said Tendaji. “We don’t need them in Chicago.”