Park Police Criticized for Use of Force During Protest Near White House

June 30, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
Police begin to clear demonstrators gather as they protest the death of George Floyd, Monday, June 1, 2020, near the White House in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A political protester and an Australian television reporter led criticisms during a congressional hearing Monday against U.S. Park Police who aggressively cleared Lafayette Square park near the White House June 1.

Police forced Black Lives Matter protesters to back away from the area while President Donald Trump crossed the street to stand in front of a church for a photo opportunity.

Reporter Amelia Brace was broadcasting live to Australia when she was hit by what she called an unknown “projectile,” pushed and hit in the back with a police baton.

“As a reporter I have no interest in becoming the story but over recent weeks many of us have been left with no choice,” Brace told the House Natural Resources Committee.

Her cameraman was hit by the edge of a riot shield in the chest and stomach. The police officer who hit him also struck the front of his camera and grabbed the lens.

The incident was videotaped by bystanders and played for congressmen during the hearing.

“As Australian journalists, we are the eyes and the ears of our people,” Brace said. “In this case witnessing civil unrest in the capital of our most powerful and closest ally.”

The Australian audience who viewed the confrontation was “alarmed,” she said. The Australian ambassador called on the U.S. government for an investigation.

Kishon McDonald, an aircraft mechanic and Navy veteran, said a tear canister went off near him, forcing him and other protesters away.

“It is unacceptable to treat protesters that way,” McDonald said.

In addition to tear gas, police used pepper spray capsules, rubber bullets and flash bombs.

McDonald is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by protesters against the Park Police and government officials. They claim that police violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.

McDonald, an African American, said he joined the protest as a matter of pride.

“On June 1, I decided to join in the peaceful protest against racial injustice,” he told the congressional committee. The protest was prompted by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Park Police said they announced three warnings over a loudspeaker to tell the protesters to disperse. They claim they were acting lawfully to remove a disruptive crowd after several officers were attacked.

McDonald and other protesters said they never heard any warnings. They are represented in their lawsuit by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia and the law firm of Arnold & Porter.

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee joined in criticisms of police and Trump.

“This president has repeatedly attacked the free press,” Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., said as he spoke with the Australian journalist.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said about Trump, “He made clear, this is a war, us against the protesters.”

The main Republican witness was Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor.

He said the law left little doubt that police were authorized to clear the park, which lies on federal land in a high-security zone. In addition, the protesters lacked a permit and dozens of police officers reported injuries in clashes with them.

“Those facts ordinarily give the government the discretion to order people from the federal property,” Turley said.

The lingering question is whether the police procedure was appropriate, he said.

“These facts, however, do not give the government carte blanche to clear the park in any manner that it desires,” Turley said.

He recommended further investigation to determine whether the police behavior followed legal restrictions on use of force.

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