Apr 14, 2022
In what one rights advocate called "a win for the ongoing resistance" against police brutality, the U.S. Department of Justice and the ACLU of Washington, D.C. on Wednesday announed a partial settlement that will require law enforcement officers to significantly reform the tactics they use to disperse crowds.
"It sounded like bombs were exploding, and the scene quickly resembled a war zone."
The settlement was reached in a case brought by the ACLU on behalf of Black Lives Matter organizers and individual protesters who faced a militarized police response to their racial justice demonstration on June 1, 2020 in Lafayette Square in the nation's capital.
The Trump administration reportedly ordered the clearing of the square so former President Donald Trump could walk to St. John's Church to have his picture taken with a Bible amid a nationwide uprising over racial justice, and law enforcement agents used flash-band grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
"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," said April Goggans, a leader of Black Lives Matter D.C., after the settlement and new policies were announced Wednesday.
"Today marks a win for the ongoing resistance against all attempts to subvert dissent," Goggans added. "These attempts to disrupt the ability to organize for an end to the recurring trauma caused to Black communities by police attacks will not go unchallenged."
\u201cOne of the promises of our #Democracy is that we should have the right to #protest, especially when it comes to #racialjustice. Shame on the prior administration for trying to silence the voices of @DMVBlackLives + allies. Glad we were able to secure a partial settlement today.\u201d— Damon Todd Hewitt (@Damon Todd Hewitt) 1649894073
According to the ACLU, under the settlement, the U.S. Park Police and the Secret Service will be:
- Barred from revoking demonstration permits absent "clear and present danger to the public safety";
- Required to enable the safe exit of demonstrators if a protest is being dispersed;
- Required to provide audible warnings before dispersing a crowd;
- Required to wear clearly visible identification;
- Prohibited from displaying gas masks and shields at protests, unless approved by a high-ranking officer; and
- Barred from "guilt-by-association policing" with new guidelines making clear that "uses of force and dispersals are not normally justified by the unlawful conduct of some individuals in a crowd."
Authorities will be required to enact the changes within 30 days.
"These changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights," said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
Protesters who faced the violent clearing of Lafayette Square two years ago reported that police fired rubber bullets directly at them, pushed them down with their shields, and released tear gas in the middle of the crowd. The use of tear gas caused vomiting in some of the participants.
\u201cA key aspect of the authoritarian project was on full display in 2020 when Pres.Trump & AG Barr allowed a violent crack down on protesters in Lafayette Sq by law enforcement ofcrs w/o badges or i.d. @TheJusticeDept settlement w/protest groups today protects against this abuse.\u201d— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sherrilyn Ifill) 1649902959
"It sounded like bombs were exploding, and the scene quickly resembled a war zone," plaintiff Radiya Buchanan said in a statement Wednesday. "People were running over each other, looking for anything to pour into their eyes to stop the burning all while trying to dodge flares and gas canisters."
Kaitlin Banner, deputy legal director for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, noted that the protesters in Lafayette Square were gathering to condemn police violence when they themselves "were attacked by federal and local police with batons and tear gas."
"This country has a history of responding to racial justice protests with violent and abusive policing," said Banner. "This settlement is an important step towards protecting future protests from police attacks like the one on June 1."
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