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Groups Demand Armed Officers in Protests Show Badges

Law enforcement officers with no visible identification wait for protesters in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sat., June 6. (Wikimedia Commons)
Law enforcement officers with no visible identification wait for protesters in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sat., June 6. (Wikimedia Commons)
June 8, 2020

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Despite a weekend of peaceful protests in Washington, D.C., over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, civil liberties groups say the presence of unidentified law enforcement officials in the city is causing concern.

The Knight First Amendment Institute has called on Attorney General William Barr to require all officers to display their agency affiliations, after journalists identified Federal Bureau of Prisons officers with no insignia patrolling protests.

The so-called "No-Badge" practice is a way to avoid accountability and intimidate protesters, according to Garett Reppenhagen, executive director of the group Veterans for Peace. He said it's especially dangerous to use unidentified prison guards to patrol peaceful marchers.

"When the only folks you're used to dealing with are already convicted prisoners, I think you might tend on treating everybody as if they're a convicted prisoner, when they're just citizens of the United States trying to exercise their First Amendment rights," Reppenhagen said.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump began withdrawing National Guard troops from the nation's capital in a step back from his show of force against protesters in Lafayette Park last week. But some demonstrators say officers without visible identification remained on the scene over the weekend.

Trump's move comes after Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser requested he withdraw all extra federal officers from the city. She said unidentified federal personnel pose both safety and national security risks.

Reppenhagen said he agrees with Bowser. He pointed out that whenever armed soldiers are used to patrol crowds, it's an invitation for violent resistance.

"Not a lot of people like to be humiliated and intimidated by soldiers on their streets and in their communities," he said. "So, I'm a little worried that the more we militarize and escalate in our communities, the more we're going to see violence and bloodshed. And I hope that we can stand down our troops for black lives."

More demonstrations are planned for Monday in D.C., including an ongoing protest across from the fenced-in White House.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA