A federal judge said Friday he’s considering making the federal officers defending the courthouse against violent protests wear large white identifying numbers, akin to “basketball or football jerseys,” so he can track who’s violating his rules of engagement for dealing with the crowds.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon also said he’s pondering something similar for journalists, with the ACLU tasked with vetting reporters and assigning them vests so they can be easily identified amid the protests.
“This may or may not be a good idea,” the judge admitted during a telephone hearing.
He’s grappling with the thorny legal battle between the protesters.
The protesters, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, say federal agents have been intentionally targeting journalists with less-lethal weapons and dispersal orders, preventing them from doing their jobs
Federal officials counter that some protesters are cloaking themselves as press and using that to attack the courthouse that’s become the focal point of protests.
Judge Simon earlier in July issued a temporary restraining order directing the federal officers not to target journalists or legal observers as they monitor the protests and the federal response.
The ACLU has filed video and legal affidavits from journalists who say even after that order, they’ve been shot or dispersed in violation of the judge’s ruling.
The problem, Judge Simon said, is trying to track down which officers are acting, since they’re generally wearing combat-style gear and helmets and their faces are hidden.
He said he’s partial to the idea of slapping sports-style numbers on them.
“I do think it might be appropriate to require any federal law enforcement officer who steps out of the fed courthouse building to wear a unique identifying code,” the judge said. “I’m kind of thinking a little bit like professional basketball or football jerseys — not with their names on it, but their numbers.”
As for reporters, he said he’s been struck by evidence the Justice Department filed showing a protester wearing a press helmet attempt to lead a breach of the fence around the courthouse.
The judge said he’s afraid that sort of behavior might make his original temporary restraining order unworkable, because officers can’t allow that sort of behavior to be shielded by wearing a press badge or outfit.
His solution was to ask the ACLU to step up and issue press vests to legitimate journalists.
The ACLU was excited about slapping numbers on federal officers, but balked at being charged with vetting reporters.
“I don’t think anybody should be trying to say who’s a journalist, and certainly not my client,” the ACLU’s lawyer said.
The federal government’s lawyers asked the judge to take a wait-and-see approach, pointing to the agreement between Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to reduce the federal role and deploy state police to take the lead on protecting the courthouse.
Judge Simon said that could solve much of the problem for the federal officers.
“If no one has to leave the building then no one has to put on jerseys,” he said.
He said he hasn’t made a final decision about the law enforcement jerseys or the press vests, but he has clearly given the idea extensive thought — including the suggestion that the identifying numbers would be in white against a dark background, and would be at least 8 inches high.
Judge Simon said he’s reluctant to make officers reveal their names because of the threat of doxxing, or having their personal information used against them for harassment.
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