The recent revelations, first published Sunday in an exclusive article by the Washington Post, further reinforce the notion that the tactic was used by the administration to instill fear in protesters, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, told Sputnik.
DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham told the Post that he learned that the protesters would be violently cleared just moments after finding out that US President Donald Trump would be walking to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op.
“We heard that there was going to be an unscheduled presidential movement. Just a few minutes later, our teams on the ground learned [chemical] munitions were going to be used. The munitions were deployed minutes later,” Newsham told the outlet.
However, both Newsham and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser have tried to distance themselves from the violent attacks, which were conducted by police using chemical irritants, rubber bullets and sound cannons on lawful protesters who were congregated in Lafayette Park. US Park Police led the charge, and the MPD was not present, the Post reported.
“The mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser, and Police Chief Peter Newsham have both immediately tried to distance themselves from this violent assault on demonstrators and on journalists that occurred on June 1,” Verheyden-Hilliard told Loud & Clear host Brian Becker on Tuesday.
“At the same time, the Mayor painted 16th Street with ‘Black Lives Matter’ lettering, and she’s completely trying to position herself as on the side of the demonstrators. And the police chief is trying to distinguish himself and the DC MPD from the other police agencies who committed this violent assault. And really, it’s quite a charade. The fact is, the mayor is trying to increase the police budget. She has been no friend of the movement in DC that has tried to rein in police violence,” she said.
Citing someone who was in attendance at a meeting at the FBI command center a few hours before the protest dispersal, the Washington Post article also stated that despite Newsham trying to distance himself from the violent acts, he joined Attorney General William Barr in looking at maps and discussing “various contingency plans” for Lafayette Park as well as other parts of DC. The plan to expand the perimeter around the White House was also discussed at that meeting, and “no one voiced disagreement with that plan,” according to Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec, though Newsham said no decision was made as to when the operation would begin.
“In the article that came out in the Post over this weekend, he [Newsham] is acknowledging that he was side by side by Barr in coordinating and discussing this plan to push the perimeter, which in other words means closing public space, closing Lafayette Park,” Verheyden-Hilliard pointed out.
“That’s a planned closure. It’s not even a reactive closure to a particular moment or to some supposed security threat. It is a planned shutdown of free speech activities,” she added.
Verheyden-Hilliard, whose organization represents clients in First Amendment cases, is also quoted in the Washington Post article as saying that “presidential security does not give a pretext for wholesale brutal assault on demonstrators and journalists.”
In fact, there are very clear rules that must be followed by police to disperse a protest, Verheyden-Hilliard pointed out.
First of all, it’s important to consider whether law enforcement should even resort to a dispersal order in the first place, the lawyer noted.
“Does law enforcement even have a basis to extinguish speech in a public forum? Do they have the right to clear people? Do they have the right to silence a demonstration at that moment? We would argue they hadn’t even met that threshold. But let’s just say they had a basis to move a crowd. Of course, there are ways to move a crowd. You can move a crowd without dispersing a demonstration,” Verheyden-Hilliard noted.
“If they wanted people to disperse, they would have to give them audible warning, calculated to reach the people who were subject to the order … They have to give an avenue and an exit for dispersal,” Verheyden-Hilliard added.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also outlined on its website that protesters must “receive clear and detailed notice of a dispersal order, including how much time they have to disperse, the consequences of failing to disperse, and what clear exit route they can follow, before they may be arrested or charged with any crime.”
According to Verheyden-Hilliard, the Trump administration’s “bold and ugly and vicious assault” against protesters was aimed at sending a loud and clear message.
“I think they wanted to send the message that if you came out, you were risking life and limb to demonstrate … they wanted to threaten people,” Verheyden-Hilliard noted.
“And it incredibly and spectacularly backfired, because as we know, the next day, more and more people came out,” Verheyden-Hilliard added.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.