(Photo by Michelai Graham)
President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General William Barr and other federal officials are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia (ACLU) and others on behalf of Black Lives Matter DC (BLMDC) and individual protestors after a number of violent scenes last week.
The lawsuit, filed in D.C., states that protesters’ first and fourth amendment rights were violated as tear gas, pepper spray bombs, rubber bullets and more were dispersed on Monday, June 1, right before Trump walked to St. John Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square to take a photo after its basement was burned the night before. Though Trump denied the use of tear gas to move protesters for this photo, there’s proof it was inflicted:
Breaking: police canisters gathered by @wusa9 crews Monday night show federal police DID use artificial CS tear gas in addition to natural OC gas on #BlackLivesMatter #WashingtonDCProtests Asking @usparkpolicepio & @realDonaldTrump for response on statements claiming otherwise. pic.twitter.com/ouFi8NWC2s
— Nathan Baca (@NathanBacaTV) June 4, 2020
A police officer is seen here pepper spraying a protester at closer range. The protester spent more than 10 minutes recovering from this incident.
At another moment that day, peaceful protesters — including this reporter — were roughly pushed back by police officers. The ACLU reports that the officers specifically deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and other chemical irritants came from the U.S. Park Police.
June 1 was the first day Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a 7 p.m. curfew after citizens had been turning out in big numbers to protest police brutality and the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25. That day, the violent pushback from officers began at around 6:30 p.m. and continued well through the night, despite protesters remaining peaceful.
Here was Trump’s response the day after his photo op outside of the church:
Washington, D.C., was the safest place on earth last night!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020
Along with the ACLU, the lawsuit was filed by Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Arnold & Porter.
“What happened to our members Monday evening, here in the nation’s capital, was an affront to all our rights,” BLMDC organizer and lead plaintiff in the case, April Goggans, said in a statement. “The death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers has reignited the rage, pain, and deep sadness our community has suffered for generations. We won’t be silenced by tear gas and rubber bullets. Now is our time to be heard.”
The lawsuit is seeking “an order barring the officials from repeating the unlawful activities, and damages for the injuries plaintiffs sustained,” per a press release. ACLU said that this won’t be the only lawsuit it plans to file against the police for the rough treatment of protesters and journalists over the past week, as the organization is also working to file similar suits nationwide.
“The president’s shameless, unconstitutional, unprovoked, and frankly criminal attack on protesters because he disagreed with their views shakes the foundation of our nation’s constitutional order,” said ACLU DC’s legal director, Scott Michelman. “And when the nation’s top law enforcement officer becomes complicit in the tactics of an autocrat, it chills protected speech for all of us.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser even took to Twitter to express her disapproval of the treatment of protesters last Monday:
I imposed a curfew at 7pm. A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!
DC residents — Go home. Be safe
— Muriel Bowser (@MurielBowser) June 2, 2020
Days after the lawsuit was announced, Bowser also revealed a large Black Lives Matter mural across the street near the White House, in an area that was also renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. BLMDC criticized Bowser’s implementations in a statement on Twitter calling for more action to be taken, such as defunding the police.
— Muriel Bowser (@MurielBowser) June 5, 2020
The military, including the National Guard, was also called into the District by Trump last week. If you were on D.C. streets, you likely saw rolling tanks and troops geared up with large guns as protesting groups grew. As of Sunday, Trump said on Twitter he has told troops in the District to start rolling back.
I have just given an order for our National Guard to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, D.C., now that everything is under perfect control. They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed. Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2020
Here’s how the FBI used a ‘spy plane’ to monitor protests in DC
How activist group Freedom Fighters DC mobilized using social media
I’ve been on the frontlines. How have you been doing your part?
DC Tech Stories talks burnout and balance with community organizers
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