A coalition of community organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against several federal law enforcement agencies in response to President Trump’s plan to deploy 150 federal agents to Chicago.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction preventing federal agents from interfering with lawful protests or arresting people without probable cause that they have committed a federal crime.
The activists, led by Black Lives Matter Chicago and the Black Abolitionist Network, said they remain skeptical that Trump will reverse course, and they recognize that a federal judge likely would not block the President’s plan. Still, they hope the lawsuit will mitigate some of the potential dangers they say are presented by the arrival of federal law enforcement in Chicago.
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“It’s doubtful that the federal government is going to back down,” said Aislinn Pulley, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago. “What the suit enables us to do is if there is egregious and unlawful activity on the hands of [federal agents], we can immediately reach a judge no matter what time of the day or night to address this, and so this gives us potential access to mitigate harm that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
The lawsuit highlights the violent clashes between federal agents and protesters that have rocked Portland, Ore., where viral videos have shown unmarked and unidentified federal police abusing and arresting demonstrators in recent weeks.
“Federal authorities have promised to deploy in Chicago the same secret police force that has terrorized the people of Portland, Oregon for more than a week, where civilians have been kidnapped, beaten, and tear gassed by anonymous federal agents,” the suit states.
Pulley said the plaintiffs were alarmed by the situation in Portland and hope the lawsuit will avoid the turmoil experienced there in recent days.
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“We are fortunate enough to be able to learn from what the feds are doing in real time, and so because of that knowledge, we’re able to use it to attempt to mitigate the same occurrences here in Chicago,” she said. “Whether or not we will be successful in that is anyone’s guess, and time will tell, but it’s based on what we have seen occurring in Portland.”
The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, GoodKids MadCity, the #LetUsBreathe Collective, South Siders Organized for Unity and Liberation, National Lawyers Guild Chicago, First Defense Legal Aid, and the In These Times Union.
The suit names as defendants U.S. Attorney General William Barr and officials from the Department of Homeland Security; the U.S. Marshall’s Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the FBI; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Spokespeople for the FBI and ICE in Chicago declined to comment on the lawsuit. Other federal agencies could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
“I hope the federal government backs down, whether it’s because a judge tells them to or they’re afraid of a judge telling them to or they see the strength and breadth of community organizations in Chicago,” said Will Bloom, secretary of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America.
All of the groups who filed the suit have been involved in frequent protests in the city in recent weeks against racism and police brutality, as protesters, attorneys, or journalists. Some of the protests have led to clashes between police and protesters, and protesters have alleged excessive force and other constitutional violations by police.
Bloom said the groups worry the addition of more than 100 federal agents could heighten the existing tensions between protesters and police. He cited examples of federal law enforcement agents working with Chicago police to target Black and Latinx Chicagoans, including the FBI’s killing of Fred Hampton and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s use of Chicago’s flawed gang database to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
“Chicago has an unfortunately long history of people who speak up politically and whose politics present a threat to the ruling class having the hammer brought down on them, especially when the federal government gets involved,” Bloom said.
Despite the impending arrival of federal agents in Chicago, Pulley said the groups will continue taking to the streets to protest police brutality and racism and encourage other Chicago residents to do the same.
“We have a right to resist the repression that currently exists and that will increase with the feds coming in,” Pulley said. “It is our duty to protect these rights, and that means that we need to remain in the streets and remain protesting to defend our lives and to defend the enforcement of our rights.”