Protesters and Black Lives Matter DC filed a lawsuit Thursday arguing that their ouster from Lafayette Square near the White House on June 1 violated both their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly and their Fourth Amendment right of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Protests have sparked across the country in response to the death of George Floyd and institutional racism in law enforcement.
The complaint argues that the US Secret Service, US Park Police, DC National Guard and US Military Police unleashed tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash bombs upon peaceful protesters, without provocation, in order to clear a path for President Donald Trump to walk to a photo opportunity at a nearby church. In addition, plaintiffs argue that this action was intentional as evidenced by Trump’s statements about protesters, referring to them as “THUGS” in his tweets. Further, in his phone call with governors, Trump stated they must take harsher actions by “dominat[ing] your city and your state,” and his Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, stated that governors need to “dominate the battlespace.”
The complaint states:
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 peaceful assembly of people seeking systemic change in the criminal justice system, like the assembly of Plaintiff and others on June 1, 2020 in Lafayette Square, is based on a decades-old history of civil rights activism in this nation. Following the long tradition of those who marched for voting rights on Sunday, March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, Plaintiffs seek to address racial inequities. But like that “Bloody Sunday” fifty-five years ago, Plaintiffs’ peaceful, lawful assembly was met by police violence.
Scott Michelman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia stated, “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. 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.”
The suit seeks an injunction prohibiting the president and his agents from infringing on the constitutional rights of protesters.