Civil right groups are representing Black Lives Matter D.C. and individual protesters in a lawsuit against the Trump administration for violently dispelling peaceful protesters for President Donald Trump’s photo op on Monday.
The lawyers, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, say the violence against protesters violated their constitutional rights to peacefully assemble. Plaintiffs are seeking an order to prohibit future unlawful activity from the administration and damages for plaintiffs who were injured.
On Monday, while Trump was holding a press conference, police and military forces at the White House deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protesters well before the city’s 7 p.m. curfew that night. Trump then walked across the street so St. John’s Church where he posed with a Bible for a brief photo op.
Trump cannot legally dispel protesters for his photo op, according to court documents.
“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,” the suit reads.
Protests across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. come after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. The violence against protesters violates their fundamental rights but the movement will persist, April Goggans, Core Organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C., said.
“What happened to our members Monday evening, here in the nation’s capital, was an affront to all our rights,” Goggans said. “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 use of force by law enforcement has also been recorded in protests across the country, with videos showing police attacking peaceful protesters and other pedestrians unprovoked. The ACLU plans to file further suits against police brutality.
The First Amendment right to free speech must be protected, Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said.
“Across the country, law enforcement armed with military weaponry are responding with violence to people who are protesting police brutality,” Wizner said. “The First Amendment right to protest is under attack, and we will not let this go unanswered.”
Sources: NPR 06/04/20; ACLU 06/04/20; Washingtonian 06/04/20; The Washington Post 06/04/20