The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of DC has filed a complaint against the DC National Guard on behalf of a woman who was injured due to several military helicopters flying low over the city during a racial justice protest in June.
The incident took place during the street demonstrations organized in response to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in downtown DC on the evening of June 1, according to ACLU.
Hours before the incident, federal police had used tear gas on the protesters to clean Lafayette Square for President Donald Trump’s walk towards a church across from the White House to pose for a photo with a Bible. (ACLU of DC also sued the Trump administration for the police intervention in a separate lawsuit).
Military helicopters operated by the DC National Guard arrived at Gallery Place, hovering above a group of protesters. They followed the protesters to Judiciary Square, where one helicopter descended low above the crowd, causing wind that kicked up debris and dirt.
Dzhuliya Dashtamirova, a 23-year old woman, was among the crowd. “My eyes and skin were burning from all the debris flying everywhere. I couldn’t see anything,” she says, referring to debris that got into her eyes and mouth.
“I was afraid that troops would storm out of the helicopter and tear gas me or shoot me with rubber bullets. It was terrifying and felt like a warning to people who believe in racial justice that if we say things the government doesn’t like, it will use the full force of the military against us.”
The use of low-flying helicopters is an intimidation tactic intended to “exploit the psychological effects of a show of force,” and has been deployed in conflict zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan to disperse insurgents, according to a release by ACLU of DC, which attributed the statement to the manual of the Department of the Army Civil Disturbances. The manual describes the practice as “rotor-wash” or “thumping.”
“This was a dangerous, unprecedented show of force against American civilians exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Michael Perloff, Attorney, ACLU of DC. “The streets of D.C. are not a war zone, and protestors are not the enemy. Our government should stop treating them that way.”
The lawsuit was filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act.