The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of the District of Columbia sued President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and a number of other federal officials on behalf of the protesters who were exposed to tear gas and rubber bullets from the police in front of the White House on the evening of Monday, June 1.
Black Lives Matters DC and other civil rights organizations are also among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which accuses the defendants of violating the protesters’ constitutional rights and engaging in an unlawful conspiracy to violate those rights while they were demonstrating against police brutality.
The DC demonstration on Monday was part of the nationwide protests that broke out in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, in Minneapolis last week.
“Defendants had no legitimate basis to destroy the peaceable gathering,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants professed purpose – to clear the area to permit the President to walk to a photo opportunity at a nearby church – was a wholly illegal reason for abridging the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs and the others assembled in Lafayette Square.”
We're so proud to represent @DMVBlackLives in this case. They have continued to tirelessly lead the movement for police reform in #DC through their advocacy in the @councilofdc, community building, grassroots organizing, and so much more. pic.twitter.com/gcmeaRDhaK
— ACLU of DC (@ACLU_DC) June 4, 2020
The plaintiffs argue that the use of chemical irritants, rubber bullets, and sound cannons to clear the way for President Trump to walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House violated the protesters’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.
“Defendants’ actions to shut down the Lafayette Square demonstration is the manifestation of the very despotism against which the First Amendment was intended to protect,” according to the complaint.
US Park Police, Arlington Police, DC Metro Police and the Secret Service have all denied that they fired tear gas in Lafayette Square.
“What happened to our members Monday evening, here in the nation’s capital, was an affront to all our rights,” said April Goggans, core organizer of Black Lives Matter DC, the lead plaintiff in the case. “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 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,” Scott Michelman, legal director of ACLU DC, said about the incident. “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.”