The Biden administration has agreed to implement law enforcement policy changes in order to settle several lawsuits filed against the Untied States accusing it of violating the civil rights of protesters who were forcibly removed from Lafayette Square in June 2020.
The settlement resolves portions of four separate civil rights lawsuits filed against the United States on behalf of Black Lives Matter D.C. and 13 individual protesters who were participating in the June 1, 2020, demonstration in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square near the White House.
The plaintiffs had argued that their civil rights were violated when law enforcement used tear gas, rubber bullets, smoke bombs and other military-grade weapons against them and other peaceful protesters in the square in order to disperse the demonstration. Not long after, then-President Donald Trump traversed the area to take pictures in front of the recently vandalized St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a bible.
As part of the settlement, the U.S. Park Police and Secret Service agreed to update policies concerning policing demonstrations with 30 days.
The changes include measures to protect protesters such as enabling the safe withdrawal of demonstrators if a protest is being dispersed, requiring audible warnings before dispersing a crowd, directing Park Police to wear clearly visible identification and prohibiting discriminatory policing based on race, color, sex, national origin or religion.
It also directs the Secret Service to revise its policy to read that “[t]he fact that some individuals in a crowd have engaged in unlawful conduct does not normally provide blanket grounds for use-of-force countermeasures, crowd dispersal or declaration of an unlawful assembly.”
Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general of the Justice Department, said in a statement that these policies changes “will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights.”
In entering the settlement, the United States makes no admission of liability or admits to the accusations leveled against it by the plaintiffs.
The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia had filed the lawsuits along with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and several other civil rights groups and law firms.
“Federal officers’ shocking and unprovoked attack against civil rights demonstrators raising their voices in front of the White House to oppose police brutality and racism was a frontal assault on the fundamental American idea of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and racial justice,” Scott Michelman, legal director of the ACLU of D.C., said in a statement. “We are pleased that the Biden administration is taking an important step to protect protesters’ rights so that what happened on June 1, 2020, doesn’t happen again.”
The settlement doesn’t resolve claims in the lawsuits against then-Attorney General William Barr and Park Police incident commander Mark Adamchik.
The lawsuits alleged that Adamchik gave the order to respond to the civil rights demonstrators with “unprovoked violence” while Barr gave the order to disperse the demonstration.
The settlement comes nearly a year after an Interior Department inspector general said that U.S. Park Police and law enforcement partners cleared protesters from Lafayette Park to erect fencing around the area and not to make way for the former president.
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