DOJ names New York City, Portland, Seattle 'anarchist jurisdictions' that could lose federal funding

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Kristine Phillips   | USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Monday singled out Portland, New York City and Seattle as "anarchist jurisdictions" – cities that the Trump administration said have allowed violence to persist during months of civil demonstrations over racial injustice and police brutality and could then lose federal funding. 

The designation of the three cities – all led by Democrats – was in response to President Donald Trump's Sept. 2 executive order, which threatened to withhold federal funding from cities where the administration said state and local officials have cut police department funding, refused offers for help from the federal government and failed to rein in violence. 

The Office of Management and Budget will send guidance on restricting the cities' eligibility for federal dollars. 

"We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. 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," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

The cities of Portland, Seattle and New York didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. But the mayors have previously criticized the move as a political stunt meant to bully and punish Democratic cities beset by crisis brought by the coronavirus pandemic. 

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This is the latest in an escalation of tension between the Trump administration and cities led by Democratic mayors, as civil unrest following the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police has stretched into several months. 

In a joint statement following Trump's executive order, the mayors said their cities and citizens are not the president's "political pawns," and withholding federal funding would be illegal. 

"We are confronting unprecedented challenges – fighting back a pandemic and economic devastation without another stimulus. Now, instead of leadership from the White House, we are faced with new attacks that are unlawful and will undoubtedly be defeated in court," the mayors said. "President Trump needs to wake up to the reality facing our cities – and our entire country – and realize he is not above the law."

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called the move an attempt to distract from the Trump administration's failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. 

"The only anarchy zone in America, where the rule of law is disregarded, is at the White House," Durkan tweeted earlier this month.

During a news conference earlier, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said officials will sue the Trump administration if it withholds federal dollars. 

"You failed us, and now you want to punish us," de Blasio said. "If you persist in trying to deny the funding that’s keeping New York City going in the middle of this crisis, we will see you in court and, once again, we will beat you in court."

Trump's executive order also singled out Washington, D.C., although the Justice Department did not designate the district as an "anarchist jurisdiction." The department, however, said it is still identifying cities that meet the criteria set by the White House. 

The Justice Department listed several reasons for choosing Portland, Seattle and New York City, one of which is the cities' decisions to eliminate positions and cut thousand of dollars from their police departments.

The department also specifically mentioned the so-called Capitol Hill Organized Protest area, or CHOP – several city blocks taken over by protesters following Floyd's death. Seattle police cleared the area in July.

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