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Democrats Call For Anonymous Policing Of Protests To End

Demonstrators march near the White House on Thursday, protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Olivier Douliery
AFP via Getty Images
Demonstrators march near the White House on Thursday, protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

When Russian-speaking troops showed up in Ukraine six years ago, they were dubbed "little green men": armed forces whose green fatigues bore neither insignia nor identification.

A similar genre of unidentified, armed personnel clad in insignia-free uniforms has appeared policing street protests in Washington, D.C., in recent days, and Democratic lawmakers are demanding answers about just who these anonymous enforcers are.

"Some officers have refused to provide identification and have been deployed without identifying insignias, badges and name plates," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote Thursday in a letter to President Trump. "The practice of officers operating with full anonymity undermines accountability, ignites government distrust and suspicion, and is counter to the principle of procedural justice and legitimacy during this precarious moment in our nation's history."

Pelosi requested that Trump provide her with "a full list of the agencies involved and clarifications of the roles and responsibilities of the troops and federal law enforcement resources operating in the city."

In the Senate, Minority leader Chuck Schumer and Connecticut Democrat Christopher Murphy announced Thursday they are cosponsoring a bill "requiring unidentified law enforcement officers and members of the Armed Forces to clearly identify themselves and their agency or service while they are engaged in crowd control or arresting individuals involved in civil disobedience or protests in the United States. "

"President Trump is trying to intimidate peaceful protestors by having unidentified and unaccountable federal law enforcement officers and members of the Armed Forces roam the streets of DC," Murphy wrote in an emailed statement. "The United States would normally condemn this tactic if used by dictators of other countries, and its use here directly threatens our democracy."

Northern Virginia House Democrat Don Beyer, who is also drafting a bill to end anonymous law enforcement, sees local laws being overridden by the federal government's response to unrest in the nation's capital.

"DC police are required by law to wear badges that must be visible 'even if wearing riot gear,' " Beyer tweeted. "But because Trump called in federal agencies to crack down on peaceful protests, people in the nation's capital once again are treated as second class citizens."

The District of Columbia's code specifically calls for "enhanced identification" of the city's police officers assigned to demonstrations, particularly for those suited in riot gear.

During a video conference with reporters on Thursday, Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal was told by a reporter that some BOP agents who had been sent to the street protests in Washington had been instructed not to identify themselves as working for the federal government.

"I'm not aware of any specific Bureau of Prisons personnel being told not to identify themselves," Carvajal replied. "What I attribute that to is probably the fact that we normally operate within the confines of our institution, and we don't need to identify ourselves."

"I probably should have done a better job of marking them nationally as the agency," he added, referring to the Special Operations Response Teams deployed to the capital whose uniforms lacked any identification. "The point is well taken."

But Attorney General Bill Barr, speaking at the same event, defended the failure on the part of some of the federal agents he dispatched to the protests to identify themselves.

"In the federal system, we don't wear badges with our names — I mean the agents don't wear badges with their names and stuff like that, which many civilian police agents, I mean non-federal police agencies, do," Barr told reporters. "I can understand why some of these individuals simply wouldn't want to talk to people about who they are, if that, in fact, was the case."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.