We won't stand for an assault on civil rights demonstrators, or the First Amendment.
On the evening of June 1, I watched in horror as hundreds of protesters gathered in Lafayette Park to speak out against the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were tear-gassed and terrorized by armed law enforcement on orders of the attorney general. It wasn't the America I know. It was a scene from a dystopian, authoritarian nightmare.
We later learned the chaos that ensued was ordered so President Trump could have a photo op with a Bible in front of St. John's church. We refuse to let this outrageous violation of all protesters' First Amendment rights go unanswered. Three days later, we sued.
The ACLU has sued the Trump administration more than 300 times, but even we would have never guessed that we would have to ask a federal court to find an American president had violated protesters' First Amendment rights by raining tear gas and rubber bullets on them as they demonstrate against police brutality.
Our clients' accounts of that evening are horrific. Toni Sanders and her wife had taken their 9-year-old son to his first protest that evening after explaining what happened to George Floyd, and why the protest was important. His first impression, seeing a sea of people chanting "Black Lives Matter," is now marred by a terrifying memory of running with his mothers from tear gas and smoke grenades.
Kishon McDonald, a Navy veteran, was charged by law enforcement officers with shields, even as he tried to leave the area. Tear gas canisters and concussion grenades exploded around him, stinging his eyes and causing him to cough. The next day, he still suffered a thick discharge from his nose caused by the tear gas.
Our client Keara Scallan was hit by rubber bullets. The pain and swelling from her injuries were so severe that she had difficulty opening her jaw to eat or brush her teeth for days following the attack.
We're so grateful to Toni, Kishon, Keara, Black Lives Matter D.C., and the rest of our clients for standing up to this outrageous assault on free speech. With your support, and together with our co-counsel, the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter – we are fighting back with our lawsuit, Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Trump.
Thank you for standing with us.
Executive Director, ACLU of the District of Columbia