Black Lives Matter D.C. and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs have filed a proposed class action lawsuit against President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr and several other officials over the use of force to clear peaceful demonstrators from D.C.’s Lafayette Square on June 1 in order for the president to participate in a photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Church.
Filed on June 9 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the plaintiffs’ first amended complaint says the defendants—who also include Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Acting Chief of the U.S. Park Police Gregory T. Monahan and Secret Service Director James Murray—without provocation directed agents from the Secret Service, D.C. National Guard, Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Park Police and U.S. Military to utilize tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash bombs into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators, forcing the individuals to flee the area.
According to the 40-page lawsuit, many peaceful demonstrators, who were protesting the systemic injustices perpetrated by police against Black people in the United States, were injured in “this unprovoked attack.”
The plaintiffs allege the defendants “had no legitimate basis to destroy the peaceable gathering.” The lawsuit alleges the defendants’ motivation for removing the peaceful demonstrators—to clear the area to permit President Trump to take a photo in front of nearby St. John’s church—was “a wholly illegal reason” for violating proposed class members’ constitutional rights.
“The police violence that Plaintiffs and other lawful, peaceful demonstrators were met with on June 1, 2020 is a continuation of an unlawful history of oppression of civil rights activists,” the lawsuit says, noting that the Department of Justice has since acknowledged Attorney General Barr orderedLafayette Square to be cleared “minutes before the assault started.” According toPolitico,Barr refutes this claim, saying hedid notgive the command to remove demonstrators.
According to the lawsuit, the removal of proposed class members from Lafayette Square is the latest chapter in a decades-old tradition of peaceful, lawful civil rights activism being met with police force. Separating the June 1 event in D.C. from countless other clashes between protestors and police is that the president and attorney general “ordered the violence,” the complaint says.
Among the plaintiffs are demonstrators present at Lafayette Square on June 1, including one present with her nine-year-old son, who say they were among those “violently attacked” in the wake of President Trump’s directive to state governors on a conference call to “dominate your city and your state.” The same day, Attorney General Barr was directed by President Trump to “personally lead the response to the unrest” in Washington, D.C., the lawsuit says.
The plaintiffs say they and other proposed class members demonstrating in Lafayette Square were surrounded by federal and local law enforcement officers before being subject to the use of tear gas, pepper spray, flashbangs and rubber bullets. The case claims law enforcement “rushed and attacked” the protestors without warning well before D.C.’s 7 p.m. curfew.
The lawsuit looks to represent a class of individuals present at Lafayette Square—defined as the area in Washington, D.C. between the north side of the White House and H Street NW and between Madison Place and Jefferson Place NW, or the street or sidewalks adjacent to or surrounding Lafayette Square—on June 1, 2020 at, around or shortly after 6:30 p.m.
The complaint comes on the heels of proposed class actions brought againstOakland,DenverandMinneapolisover the use of force on protestors, journalists, medics and others by police amid protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others at the hands of law enforcement.
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