Earlier this month, President Trump directed the Department of Justice to identify jurisdictions that, in its view, were not enforcing laws appropriately.
Now, the DOJ has classified Portland, Seattle, the District of Columbia, and New York City as “anarchist jurisdictions,” threatening to withhold federal funds because they “have permitted violence and destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities.”
Soon after the annoucnement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the mayors of these cities promised to fight the federal action.
Cities on Edge
The whole notion of an “anarchist jurisdiction” stems from months of civil unrest in many of America’s major cities. Peaceful protests against police brutality and systemic racism have snowballed into some violence, some instances of looting, and semi-permanent protestor encampments in certain cities. All the while, Trump has pointed to the unrest and to the Democratic leaders of these cities as a threat to the nation’s law and order—a basis for his reelection bid.
Now, the Office of Management and Budget has 30 days to issue guidance to federal agencies on restricting these so-called anarchist cities from receiving federal grant money. For New York City, such a thing would create difficult issues. It is already has a cash-strapped annual budget that relies on federal grants for a large chunk of its yearly spending. The City expects such grants to provide over $7 billion in fiscal year 2021, which is about 7.5% of the City’s projected total revenue.
The Justice Department, however, points to New York City’s rising gun violence, budget cuts to the police department, and prosecutorial leniency on protestors as rationale for the fund restrictions. Gun violence is up, but from historic lows.
“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” stated Attorney General Bill Barr. “It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”
Governor and Mayors React
For his part, Gov. Cuomo has accused the Trump Administration of making New York City a pawn in a shortsighted political play.
“I understand the politics,” Cuomo said, “but when you try to manipulate and distort government agencies to play politics, which is what the Trump administration has done from day one … this is more of the same. The president can’t supersede the law and say I’m going to make those funds basically discretionary funds, which is what he would have to do.”
And while Cuomo suggests that the funding freeze is more likely a threat than a probability, the Governor says he is prepared to take the Administration to court if need be. “If they actually do this,” the Democrat told reporters, “we will challenge it legally, and they will lose once again.”
Meanwhile, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan released a joint statement blasting Trump and his Justice Department.
“This is thoroughly political and unconstitutional,” reads the statement. “The President is playing cheap political games with Congressionally directed funds.” It additionally decries what the mayors deem “recklessness and partisanship from the White House.”