President Donald Trump is to send a “surge” of federal law enforcement officers into cities including Chicago and Albuquerque in a crackdown on crime.
Protests over the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May have spread across the US, some turning violent and descending into civil disorder.
Mr Trump is presenting himself as the candidate of law and order against his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, as he seeks re-election in the 3 November election, now just over 100 days away.
Critics say the administration is seeking to shift the focus away from its widely criticised response to the coronavirus pandemic.
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But announcing his plan for further federal intervention into US communities “plagued by violent crime” – following deployments in Portland, Oregon – Mr Trump painted Democrat-led cities as out of control and blamed the “radical left”.
“In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police department,” said Mr Trump, blaming the movement for “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence”.
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“Frankly, we have no choice but to get involved,” he said.
“This bloodshed must end,” he said. “This bloodshed will end.”
The move is an extension of Operation Legend, devised to tackle violent crime in Kansas City, Missouri, and named after four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was fatally shot while sleeping in his family home last month.
It involves the deployment of officers from the FBI, Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies to work with local authorities and police.
Similar actions have proved controversial in Portland, Oregon, where federal agents without identifying badges have been accused of pulling protesters into unmarked vans, a possible violation of their civil rights.
Attorney General William Barr, who joined Mr Trump for the announcement, said around 200 federal agents would be deployed to Chicago.
Wednesday’s White House news conference followed a night of violence in Chicago which included a drive-by shooting by suspected gang members at a funeral that wounded 15 people.
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, who had initially said she would never allow “Donald Trump’s troops to come to Chicago and terrorise our residents”, later added: “If those agents are here to actually work in partnership on support of gun violence and violent cases, plugging into existing infrastructure of federal agents, not trying to play police in our streets, then that’s something different.”
New Mexico Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich, however, said the action was unwelcome, tweeting: “Given the mess it created in Portland… this isn’t the kind of ‘help’ that Albuquerque needs.”
Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf drew a distinction between the mission in Portland – to protect federal property – and the planned interventions in Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque to help stop violence.
In Kansas City, the top federal prosecutor said any agents involved in an operation to reduce violent crime would be clearly identifiable when making arrests, unlike what has been seen in Portland.
“These agents won’t be patrolling the streets,” US Attorney Timothy Garrison said. “They won’t replace or usurp the authority of local officers.”