DOJ, Civil Rights Groups Reach Settlement On Lafayette Square Protests

The Justice Department said Wednesday that settlements have been reached in four civil cases after protesters were removed from D.C.’s Lafayette Square during civil rights demonstrations in June 2020.

As part of the settlements, the United States Park Police and Secret Service will “update and clarify” policies on demonstrations “within 30 days of today’s settlement,” according to a Justice Department statement.

Among the changes are more specific requirements for visible identification of officers, limits on the use of non-lethal force and procedures to facilitate safe crowd dispersal.

The plaintiffs — Black Lives Matter D.C. and individuals who attended the protests — agreed to dismiss their claims, according to the statement.

“The federal government is committed to the highest standards for protecting civil rights and civil liberties in any federal law enforcement response to public demonstrations,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement.

“These changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights.”

In its own statement, the D.C. ACLU said the changes would “settle some of the legal claims by civil rights protesters unconstitutionally and brutally attacked outside the White House with tear gas and other military-grade weapons while demonstrating for Black Lives Matter and racial justice in June 2020.”

The organization said lawsuits were filed after hundreds of people demonstrating in Lafayette Square against police brutality and “Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd were violently dispersed, without warning or provocation, by U.S. Park Police and other federal and local enforcement officers using chemical irritants, rubber bullets, smoke bombs, flash grenades, and a baton charge.”

The ACLU noted that after the protesters had been dispersed, then-President Donald Trump posed for a photo holding a bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

“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, core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C.

“Today marks a win for the ongoing resistance against all attempts to subvert dissent. 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.”

Going forward, the Park Police said it will:

  • Protecting the right to demonstrate by providing that Park Police cannot revoke demonstration permits absent “clear and present danger to the public safety,” or “widespread violations of applicable law that pose significant threat of injury to persons or property;”
  • Protecting demonstrators by requiring Park Police to enable the safe withdrawal of demonstrators if a protest is being dispersed;
  • Protecting demonstrators by requiring Park Police to provide audible warnings before dispersing a crowd;
  • Promoting accountability by requiring Park Police to wear clearly visible identification;
  • Protecting demonstrators from intimidation by prohibiting Park Police from displaying gas masks and shields at protests, unless approved by a high-ranking officer;
  • Prohibiting discriminatory policing based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, or viewpoint; and
  • Reducing the opportunity for guilt-by-association policing by modifying Secret Service policy to make clear that uses of force and dispersals are not normally justified by the unlawful conduct of some individuals in a crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

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