Black Lives Matter and the ACLU are suing the Trump administration for forcing peaceful protesters out of his way with tear gas before his church photo op
- 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 Defense Secretary Mark Esper, among other federal officials.
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 Defense 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:
—Andrew Springer (@springer) June 2, 2020
—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 organizer 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 Centers 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.
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