HENRICO, V.A. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger — a former federal law enforcement agent — is demanding answers from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about the recent deployment of unidentifiable law enforcement officers to Washington, D.C.
In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Spanberger and 120 of her House colleagues are seeking answers about the deployment of DOJ law enforcement officers — including personnel from the Federal Bureau of Prisons — to police the nation’s capital without carrying identifying name plates, official insignia, or agency markings on their uniforms. This action could undermine public safety, trust, and peace, as well as set a precedent for the future accountability of DOJ officers in Virginia and across the country.
“The public must know in all cases whether individuals purporting to enforce the law by detaining citizens or using force against them are actually authorized to do so—and by whom,” said Spanberger and her colleagues. “This is critical to police accountability to the people.”
In the letter, the Members also requested Attorney General Barr immediately order the restoration of identifying information to the uniforms of all DOJ personnel deployed within Washington, D.C.
The letter continues, “It appears now that under your directive and leadership, the DOJ has formed an army of unidentifiable and unaccountable law enforcement personnel to dominate Washington, D.C. This is an invitation to further chaos, confusion, discord and violence. We demand that you immediately order the restoration of identifying information to the uniforms of all DOJ personnel deployed within the city of Washington, D.C.”
The Spanberger-signed letter is led by U.S. Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), Donald Beyer (D-VA-08) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-AL)
Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is below.
Dear Attorney General Barr,
We and the entire nation are in a state of heightened awareness in the wake of the thoroughly unconstitutional military assault you ordered on peaceful civil rights protesters exercising their First Amendment rights in a traditional public forum in order to make way for the President’s blasphemous photo opportunity at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday night.
But now we write about a related and continuing remarkable assault on the rule of law: your deployment of Department of Justice (DOJ) law enforcement officers, including personnel from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), to act against protesters in Washington, D.C. without carrying identifying name plates, official insignia, or agency markings of any kind on their “uniforms.” Washington, D.C. is the constitutional Seat of Government where all citizens have the right to travel, speak, assemble, and petition for a redress of grievances. These generic “law enforcement personnel” you have sent forth into public spaces to police and harass the citizenry have been refusing to identify themselves or their employing agencies to members of the public and the press. Several have stated that they were not permitted to identify themselves. These officers have been part of a law enforcement operation making arrests, subduing civil rights protesters, firing rubber bullets in the chests of our constituents, and intimidating the public. Who are they and who do they work for?
The United States is a constitutional democracy and all of us who are elected to public office are nothing but the servants of the people. Those appointed to public office, like you and the law enforcement officials under your command, are nothing but the servants of the servants of the people.
The public must know in all cases whether individuals purporting to enforce the law by detaining citizens or using force against them are actually authorized to do so—and by whom. This is critical to police accountability to the people. How can our constituents complain about abusive conduct on the part of your officers if they cannot even identify them or which agency they work for? Anonymity for armed federal agents thus confers on them a cloak of immunity, impunity and omnipotence. There will be no repercussions for trampling the civil rights and liberties of the people.
Identifying law enforcement personnel is also critical to prevent vigilante and impostor groups from masquerading as law enforcement officers and committing random acts of violence and abusing the rights of the people. How do you propose to explain to American citizens the difference between your unidentified but heavily armed law enforcement officers and selfappointed militiamen and camouflage-sporting white supremacists carrying military-style assault weapons?
The failure of law enforcement personnel to provide identifying information on a uniform is “a direct contradiction to the oversight that [DOJ has] been providing for many years to local police” according to former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton. Anonymizing law enforcement officials is a step taken by authoritarians like Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who provide amnesty to loyalists so that their free-wheeling abuse of civilians is never known. This obscuring of lines of public authority is antithetical to our Constitution and should never be undertaken by the Attorney General of the United States.
Over the last week, you defied the Constitutional rights of the people. It appears now that under your directive and leadership, the DOJ has formed an army of unidentifiable and unaccountable law enforcement personnel to dominate Washington, D.C. This is an invitation to further chaos, confusion, discord and violence.
We demand that you immediately order the restoration of identifying information to the uniforms of all DOJ personnel deployed within the city of Washington, D.C. We also demand that you provide responses to the following inquiries by Monday, June 8, 2020:
1. Identify the individual(s) who ordered that DOJ law enforcement personnel be deployed to Washington, D.C., without any identifying name plates, insignia, or markers denoting agency affiliation on their uniforms.
2. Identify the authority and basis for allowing DOJ law enforcement personnel to remove all identifying nameplates, insignia, or markers denoting agency affiliation on their uniforms.
3. Identify the individual who ordered the unidentifiable DOJ law enforcement officers to refuse to answer inquiries as to their agency affiliations and the authority under which such order was given.
4. Identify the agencies, field offices, units, and any other identifying information from which DOJ law enforcement have been drawn and deployed to Washington, D.C.
5. Detail whether the Department has developed contingency plans to deal with rightwing agitators, domestic terrorist organizations, and paramilitary groups that may attempt to disguise themselves with paramilitary tactical gear similar to that worn by DOJ law enforcement personnel to infiltrate the District of Columbia or other locations to cause disruption and bodily harm to protesters and governmental personnel. Does the Department have a means to recognize non-law enforcement officers who are dressed in similar paramilitary tactical gear to prevent their incursion into secured areas?
Any refusal or hesitation on your part to order DOJ personnel to immediately affix both personally identifying and institutionally identifying nameplates, insignia, and other markers on their uniforms will only further demonstrate your unfitness to lead the Department of Justice. We therefore look forward to your prompt and positive response.