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U.S. Justice Department weighs stripping federal funds from cities allowing 'anarchy'

Reuters logo Reuters 9/21/2020 By Sarah N. Lynch
a truck on a city street filled with lots of luggage: FILE PHOTO: Seattle Police retake the CHOP area in Seattle © Reuters/LINDSEY WASSON FILE PHOTO: Seattle Police retake the CHOP area in Seattle

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Monday threatened to revoke federal funding for New York City, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, saying the three liberal cities were allowing anarchy and violence on their streets.

"We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

New York's Corporation Counsel said Monday the city will take legal action if funds are ultimately withheld, while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the latest threat from the Trump administration is a political ploy designed to play to Trump's base.

a man wearing glasses: Attorney General Barr Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee, in Washington © Reuters/POOL Attorney General Barr Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee, in Washington

"This is just another one of President (Donald) Trump's games. It's thoroughly political, it's part of his campaign strategy," de Blasio said during a press briefing.

"It's insulting to the people of New York City. And his efforts to withhold our funding is unconstitutional," he added.

Spokespeople for the mayors' offices in Seattle and Portland did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Many cities across the United States have experienced unrest since the May death of George Floyd. In some cases the protests have escalated into violence and looting.

The federal government has mounted a campaign to disperse the racial justice protests, including by sending federal agents into Portland and Seattle and encouraging federal prosecutors to bring charges.

Last week, the Justice Department urged federal prosecutors to consider sedition charges against protesters who have burned buildings and engaged in other violent activity.

Monday's threat to revoke federal funds was the government's latest escalation in its quest to curb the protests.

It comes after Trump earlier this month issued a memo laying out criteria to consider when reviewing funding for states and cities that are "permitting anarchy, violence, and destruction in American cities.”

The criteria to make the president's list include things such as whether a city forbids the police from intervening or if it defunds its police force.

In all three cities, the Justice Department said, the leadership has rejected efforts to allow federal law enforcement officials to intervene and restore order, among other things.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York City; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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