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Judge Considers Making Officers Wear Numbered Jerseys To Make Them Easier For Activists To Identify

Portland, OR – A U.S. District Court judge said he is considering requiring federal officers to wear eight-inch high numbers on their uniforms to make it easier to identify them in cases of alleged excessive force.

“I do think it might be appropriate to require any federal law enforcement officer who steps out of the federal courthouse building to wear a unique identifying code,” U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon said during a phone conference with attorneys on July 31, according to Politico.

The judge said the uniform identifiers would resemble the jerseys worn by professional sports teams.

“I’m taking this very, very seriously,” Simon added.

The federal judge’s comments came in conjunction with the lawsuit he is overseeing involving accusations that federal law enforcement officers have used excessive force against legal observers and journalists during the riots that have taken place in downtown Portland over the past 10 weeks, Politico reported.

The lawsuit was field by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Simon issued a temporary restraining order on July 23, barring federal law enforcement officers from using force against or arresting anyone who they should “reasonably know” to be a legal observer or journalist, unless officers have probable cause to believe the individual has committed a crime, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

He also ruled that legal observers and journalists are not required to comply with orders to disperse.

Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has been operating under nearly identical restrictions since early July, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

But unlike PPB, federal officers deemed to have intentionally violated Simon’s order would lose their qualified immunity.

Simon said legal observers can be identified by their green hats or blue vests, while journalists should be carrying a press pass or be wearing clothing that otherwise identifies them as members of the press, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The judge alleged that incidents of federal officers harming legal observers and journalists in the further are neither “speculative or hypothetical.”

“Absent an injunction, the Federal Defendants will continue to target journalists and legal observers and require them to disperse or face force and violence by federal officers,” the judge said.

Attorney Andrew Warden, the federal government’s counsel for the case, argued that it has been nearly impossible for officers to differentiate between rioters and members of the press during the nightly violence and mayhem that has been taking place on Portland’s streets, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

“It’s just not realistic to ask law enforcement officers to verify press passes or hat color while trying to restore order in a chaotic situation where lasers are being shot at them to blind them, fireworks are being targeted at them, everyone’s wearing masks, helmets, face coverings,” Warden said.

He said that Simon’s order has placed officers in an “impossible position.”

“Nearly everyone appears to have a camera or a cellphone out to record things further making it difficult to distinguish legitimate journalists from others,” Warden added.

According to PPB, some of the rioters who attacked police with lasers and glass bottles on multiple occasions over the weekend had the word “press” written on their clothing.

The U.S. Department of Justice has also reported instances where rioters disguised as members of the press have attempted to climb over the protective fence surrounding the federal courthouse, Politico reported.

They have allegedly shielded violent rioters from police as they mingle within the massive crowds.

Portland’s city attorneys have expressed support for the temporary restraining order, and have accused federal officers of escalating violence and placing citizens at risk, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

During the phone conference on Friday, Simon said he was concerned about videos he has seen that appear to show federal officers intentionally targeting members of the press, Politico reported.

He said criminal contempt charges could be filed against officers accused of defying his temporary restraining order.

Simon said he is also concerned about allegations that rioters are disguising themselves as members of the press, Politico reported.

“There may be some people wearing press on their clothing and they’re engaging in unlawful acts,” he acknowledged.

“I don’t want anybody on either side of this issue to get killed,” Simon added. “I don’t want any of the protesters to get killed and I don’t want any law enforcement officers to get killed.”

Simon added that “no one has to put on jerseys that have unique identifying codes” if federal officers agree to stay inside federal buildings, Politico reported.

The temporary restraining order is set to expire on Aug. 6, but may be extended for another two seeks if all parties agree to do so.

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Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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