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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department threatened to revoke federal funding for New York City, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, saying on Monday 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.
Many cities across the United States have experienced unrest since the May death of George Floyd, with some protests escalating into violence and looting.
The federal government has mounted a campaign to disperse the violence, 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 President Donald 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 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.
The move drew sharp criticism from Democratic politicians. In a joint statement, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan accused the Trump administration of playing politics and said withholding federal funds would be illegal.
“This is thoroughly political and unconstitutional,” they said.