- Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, and other civil rights groups are suing members of the Trump administration for clearing peaceful protesters in Washington DC with tear gas and rubber bullets.
- The ACLU said it was suing over a violation of protesters’ “constitutional rights” and warned of a chilling of free speech.
- Police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square on Monday to make way for President Donald Trump to take photos with a Bible outside a church.
- The ACLU said anti police-brutality protesters had gathered “peacefully” and law enforcement was directed to clear them “without provocation.”
- The lawsuit was filed against Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and Defence Secretary Mark Esper, among other federal officials.
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Civil rights groups including Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are suing members of the Trump administration, claiming they violated the constitutional rights of protesters in Washington, DC, when police forcefully removed them to clear a park so President Donald Trump could take a photo.
A statement from the ACLU’s Washington, DC, branch said it was suing on behalf of the Black Lives Matter DC branch and five individual protesters, including a nine-year-old boy, “for violations of their constitutional rights.”
The lawsuit was filed against Trump, Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, and other federal officials.
On Monday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Lafayette Square, near the White House.
The attack, which took place in front of St. John’s Church, took place minutes before Trump left the White House and walked to the church, where he was photographed holding a Bible.
The protesters had been taking part in anti-police brutality demonstrations that have spread across the country since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Barr had reportedly made the order to disperse them, and Esper was part of the photo shoot.
You can see some footage of the incident in DC here:
I was a witness to the peaceful protests at the White House. Here is my video from shortly after 6:30, when the police started firing teargas and setting off flash bangs to move the crowd—for Trump's photo-op. pic.twitter.com/WLuoecpbtZ
— Andrew Springer (@springer) June 2, 2020
Here's the moment where police fired teargas into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park, just minutes before Trump's address in the Rose Garden. pic.twitter.com/KPjxMKdDyx
— Cameron Peters (@jcameronpeters) June 1, 2020
Scott Michelman, the legal director of the ACLU’S DC branch, said in a statement: “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.”
“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.”
April Goggans, a Black Lives Matter DC organiser and the lead plaintiff in the case, said: “What happened to our members Monday evening, here in the nation’s capital, was an affront to all our rights.”
The ACLU said protesters had gathered “peacefully” and that Trump and Barr directed law enforcement to clear them “without provocation.”
The complaint asserts that the steps taken to “shut down the Lafayette Square demonstration is the manifestation of the very despotism against which the First Amendment was intended to protect.”
Reporters who were at the scene said the protesters had not been violent before police cleared them out of the park.
US Park Police claimed that “no tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park” and said that the protesters were “violent.”
But police had admitted to using pepper spray, which the US Centres for Disease Control classifies as a kind of tear gas.
The lawsuit, filed in a DC federal court, was also filed by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Arnold & Porter law firm.
Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, DC, said she was “outraged” and called it an “abuse of sacred symbols.”
Two clergy members also said they were forcibly removed from the church grounds. One wrote: “The patio of St. John’s, Lafayette square had been HOLY GROUND today. A place of respite and laughter and water and granola bars and fruit snacks. But that man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second.”
Multiple reports said that Trump had been motivated by the criticism he had received for going to a bunker as protests took place outside the White House.
The ACLU said it is planning more lawsuits across the country in response to police brutality during the protests.
- Read more:
- Defence Secretary Mark Esper says he ‘didn’t know’ where he was going when he walked with Trump through a park aggressively cleared of protesters moments before
- ‘I wish you the best’: US military adviser resigns after Trump’s controversial photo op at church
- A San Diego protester shared her experience on TikTok after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet
- The White House praised the ‘courage’ of Chinese protesters who died in the Tiananmen Square massacre days after tear gas and rubber bullets were used against protesters in DC