Written By: Charlotte MacKay
On Monday, Sept. 27 the Department of Justice (DOJ) declared three cities, New York, Portland, and Seattle, as “anarchic jurisdictions.” The three cities are central locations of ongoing demonstrations and protests over racial injustice, police brutality and systemic inequalities within the United States. The declaration potentially allows the Trump administration to withhold federal aid from the jurisdictions in question.
The DOJ’s decision roots back to a memo issued by President Donald Trump on Sept. 2, which ordered the Justice Department to investigate and determine areas in the United States that “have permitted violence and the destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract these criminal activities.”
Attorney General William Barr determined that New York, Portland, and Seattle were three cities that met the criteria outlined in Trump’s memo. An important factor in the identification of these cities, according to the DOJ’s statement, was their decision to cut police funding, to refuse federal intervention against demonstrators, and to not prosecute protestors.
All three cities are central locations for the ongoing demonstrations throughout the United States that were sparked by the murder of George Flloyd in late May by police officer Derek Chauvin. The ongoing protests call for systematic change amidst the police brutality and systemic racism within the United States. “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,” Barr said in a statement after the decision was publicized.
The designation of “anarchic jurisdiction” comes with potential direct financial consequences, as it allows the Trump Administration to reconsider the allocation of federal aid to the cities. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, along with other city mayors and state governors, objected to the potential denial of federal aid, calling it a “gross misuse of federal power.” Governor Cuomo (NY-D) raised similar objections, saying “The president can’t supersede the law and say I’m going to make those funds basically discretionary funds, which is what he would have to do.” The denial or continuance of aid is yet to be decided. The Office of Management and Budget has 30 days–until Oct. 27–to decide whether or not to restrict the cities’ access to the federal cities on the list.
The three mayors of the cities, all of whom are Democrats, condemned the decision to name the cities’ anarchic jurisdiction as overtly political. They released a joint statement saying the action was “thoroughly political and unconstitutional. The President is playing cheap political games with Congressionally directed funds.” The mayor of Washington D.C., which was named in Trump’s Sept. 2 memo but not declared an “anarchic jurisdiction” by the DOJ on Sept. 27, joined in the condemnation. The mayors said that Trump’s memo’s and the DOJ’s decision are reflective of the whole administration: “the Trump Administration is engaging in more of what we’ve seen all along: shirking responsibility and placing blame elsewhere to cover its failure.”