The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached a settlement in four cases sparked by police’s forceful clearing of Black Lives Matter protesters from a public park steps away from the White House in 2020, days after George Floyd’s murder.
The unrest at Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, saw US Park Police fire flash-bang shells, and gas and rubber bullets at a group of hundreds of demonstrators a half-hour before President Donald Trump walked through the cleared park for a scheduled photo op.
The president sauntered over to visit the historic St. John’s Church, located across the park from the White House, where he posed holding a Bible.
As part of the settlement, Park Police and Secret Service agreed to ‘update and clarify’ policies regarding demonstrations, DOJ officials wrote in a news release announcing the agreement, detailing changes like requiring officers to wear badges and nameplates in public view, including on tactical gear and helmets.
The Department of Justice settlement further bars the agencies from revoking protest permits unless the gatherings present a ‘clear and present danger to the public safety’ or general unrest that could lead to injuries or property damage, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups wrote Wednesday.
The revamped policy also presented new guidelines regarding the use of non-lethal force, urging officers to first engage in de-escalation tactics and seek senior approval before resorting to physical confrontation.
As part of the deal, Park Police will also be barred from donning tactical gear such as gas masks and riot shields at protests unless approved by a superior officer.
The guidance also asserts that police will be held responsible for the the safe withdrawal of demonstrators if a protest is being dispersed, and requires officers to provide audible warnings before engaging.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached a settlement in four cases sparked by police’s forceful clearing of Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square near the White House in 2020. The incident saw cops in riot gear hurl tear gas and pepper bombs at demonstrators – an occurrence then Defense Secretary James Mattis called a ‘mockery of our Constitution’
The unrest at the public park on June 1, 2020, saw Park Police fire flash-bang shells, gas, and rubber bullets at a group of hundreds of demonstrators
The agencies agreed to implement the changes regarding officers use of force to disperse crowds within 30 days, the settlement filed in federal court revealed.
The settlement in the four civil cases – which listed Black Lives Matter and four unnamed demonstrators who accused officers of using excessive force during the unrest as plaintiffs – did not include financial restitution for the victims.
‘The federal government is committed to the highest standards for protecting civil rights and civil liberties in any federal law enforcement response to public demonstrations,’ said US Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the announced overhaul.
‘These changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights.’
April Goggans, meanwhile, the lead organizer of Black Lives Matter for the District of Columbia, said the agreement marked a victory for a marginalized Black community.
The chaos occurred a half-hour before then President Trump walked through the cleared park for a scheduled photo op, with protesters alleging he ordered their removal ahead of the shoot
The shoot saw the then-president visit the historic St. John’s Church, located across the park from the White House, where he posed holding a Bible
‘The use of tear gas and rubber bullets will never be enough to silence our voices or diminish our duty to demand an end to police violence against Black communities,’ Goggans said in the ACLU statement.
‘Today marks a win for the ongoing resistance against all attempts to subvert dissent.’
The agreement resolves civil claims filed by the unnamed plaintiffs after hundreds of protesters were forcefully ushered out of the square by police, who thrust pepper balls and flash-bangs at the reportedly peaceful demonstrators.
The crowd was disbursed minutes before Trump crossed the park, with the smell of pepper spray still in the air, to pose in front of the historic church while holding a Bible.
The removal of people drew widespread criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans, including former Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis, who slammed the incident as a ‘mockery of our Constitution.’
In the civil suits named in Wednesday’s settlement, protesters initially alleged Trump was responsible for the mayhem that ensued.
However, a report last year by the Interior Department’s inspector general, Mark Greenblatt, exonerated the former president, concluding the protesters were cleared by Park Police so a contractor could install new fencing along the north side of the White House after several nights of unrest in the area spurred my Floyd’s murder by now-incarcerated Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin.
As part of the settlement, Park Police agreed to ‘update and clarify’ policies regarding demonstrations, with changes like requiring officers to wear badges and nameplates in public view, including on tactical gear and helmets
Following the inspector general’s probe, a federal judge dismissed the protesters claims against Trump, due to a lack of evidence that he coordinated the incident with cabinet members Mark Esper, then the Defense Secretary, and former Attorney General Bill Barr.
In the report, Greenblatt also remarked it was likely police had issued warnings before engaging with demonstrators, but that amid the chaos, protesters had not heard the officers’ words
He also asserted that Secret Service agents, who also participated in the clearing of demonstrators, advanced on the park before Park Police were able to issue their warnings.
He also determined that it was Washington, DC, police who initially fired tear gas at the protesters, taking Park Police by surprise.
That lack of synergy between the two departments appeared to be an issue officials sought to address with the policy changes, which outlined how law enforcement agencies should cooperate with one another when faced with such an incident.
The Secret Service, which reported one of its agents had used pepper spray on protesters during the June 2020 incident, agreed to include language in the new guidance that discourages ‘blanket’ use-of-force to dispel a crowd, in a revision of a previous policy.
Also part of the deal is that Park Police will also be barred from donning tactical gear such as gas masks and riot shields at protests unless approved by a superior officer
The agreement resolves civil claims filed by the unnamed plaintiffs after hundreds of protesters were forcefully ushered out of the square by police, who thrust pepper balls and flash-bangs at the reportedly peaceful demonstrators
‘The fact that some individuals in a crowd have engaged in unlawful conduct does not normally provide blanket grounds for use-of-force countermeasures, crowd dispersal, or declaration of an unlawful assembly,’ the new policy will state, a copy of the settlement revealed.
Also part of the agreement is the stipulation that the plaintiffs, including Black Lives Matter D.C. and others who engaged in the protests, agree to dismiss their claims against the agencies.
The settlement therefore does not resolve the plaintiffs’ claims against police commanders and officers, alleging they used excessive force to disperse the protests, the ACLU said in the statement announcing the accord.
‘Those responsible for giving the order and carrying out this injustice still need to be held accountable,’ Yvonne Slosarski, a spokeswoman for the ACLU in DC, told Bloomberg in an email Wednesday following the DOJ’s announcement.
‘We will continue fighting for damages for the clients and all the protesters involved in this horrific assault on unprovoked protesters.’
National Park Service Director Chuck Sams, meanwhile, said Wednesday that he is hopeful that the new guidelines on officers from his agency would serves as a model for the future disbursal of other demonstrations.
‘It is good for the public and good for our officers,’ Sams said in a statement Wednesday. ‘The United States Park Police is committed to ensuring people can gather safely to express our most fundamental and cherished right to free speech.’