DETROIT (AP) — Federal agents being sent to Detroit by the Trump administration will help local authorities fight violent crime and won’t interfere with protests against racism or excessive force by police, the region’s top federal prosecutor said Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider dismissed as “irresponsible rhetoric” any suggestion that the government wants to quash dissent in Michigan, seeking to allay fears that they would have a role similar to the one agents have had at protests in Portland, Oregon, in recent weeks. Instead, he stressed that they would be helping local law enforcement combat a rise in violent crime in Detroit.
“The United States Department of Justice will not sit on the sidelines while murderers spread violence in our neighborhoods,” Schneider told reporters as he described a “surge” of agents and deputy marshals in Detroit.
He mentioned the death of 4-year-old Nathaniel Mesiah Roby-Townsend, who was killed in May during a drive-by shooting. The FBI separately announced a $25,000 reward for information that helps solve the case.
Schneider said the federal officers sent to Detroit have been assigned to capture fugitives, address illegal gun possession and break up drug trafficking, among other tasks. More than 40 people in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, known as the ATF, have been newly hired in Detroit or assigned to the effort.
The FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals Service are also involved. Similar announcements were made in Milwaukee and Cleveland.
Earlier this week, Detroit police Chief James Craig said violence was rising in the city, with more than 500 guns being seized in a recent four-week period. Craig and Mayor Mike Duggan said they welcome the government’s help.
“There’s no question we’ve seen more gang activity,” Duggan said. “There are more people carrying guns than we have seen before. That’s what the officers are all telling me.”
The arrival of agents in Portland greatly raised tensions in that city, with fireworks, flares and rocks thrown at federal officers. Oregon’s governor announced Wednesday that the agents would begin a “phased withdrawal.”
Detroit had days of protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis but hasn’t experienced the unrest seen in other parts of the country.
“To be clear, ATF and none of my federal partners here are going to be driving around the streets in unmarked cars to somehow make contact or swoop up protesters and demonstrators. I have no interest,” said Jim Deier, head of the ATF in southeastern Michigan.
As the officials spoke, dozen of people marched outside the ATF office chanting profane slogans. A sign read, “We need federal funds not federal agents!”
“Federal agents have been in Detroit for decades,” said Schneider, who was appointed U.S. attorney by President Donald Trump. “Some of what we are doing is no different than what I did as an assistant United States attorney years ago when my bosses were Eric Holder and President Barack Obama.”
Follow Ed White at https://twitter.com/edwritez