One year after police brutalized protestors, has anything changed?
June 1, 2020, is a day many of us will never forget. That day, as thousands of people gathered in Lafayette Square near the White House to demonstrate for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd's murder, federal and local law enforcement fired tear gas, pepper spray capsules, rubber bullets, and flash bombs into the crowd to disperse protestors from the area. Thirty minutes later, then-President Donald Trump stood in front of St. John's Church for a photo op with a Bible.
Many demonstrators were injured, some severely, by this unprovoked attack. We responded immediately with our partners, filing a federal lawsuit days after this outrageous assault on our First Amendment rights.
On Monday, a federal judge dismissed most of the claims in that lawsuit, ruling that federal officials cannot be sued for monetary compensation for violating constitutional rights whenever they do so against a crowd near the White House.
Not only is this decision a stunning rejection of our constitutional values and protestors' free speech rights, but it opens the door for future violence at the hands of the federal government and effectively places federal officials above the law. We are evaluating our legal options to continue to fight both to ensure accountability for law enforcement and defend protestors' rights to seek change.
A year after the attack, we asked our clients in that lawsuit to reflect on the past year <[link removed]>. Lorenzo Green of Black Lives Matter D.C. noted the violence last June was only a "snapshot of the violent repression on marginalized people for generations." Thanks to a movement led by Black and brown people, the recognition of this truth ignited a renewed effort to challenge the status quo and end our reliance on arrests and criminalization in the name of public safety. Our client Toni Sanders observed: "People are realizing the world that has been created so far doesn't have to be the world we continue to live in."
Today, the call for racial justice and police accountability has never been stronger.
In the months following those June 1, 2020, protests, thousands of D.C. residents continued to speak out, organize, and demand that their government enact lasting changes to end harmful police practices and reimagine a new public safety infrastructure that invests heavily in communities. A system that recognizes that the safest communities are not those with the most police – they're those that have access to safe housing, mental and physical healthcare, good schools, and living-wage jobs.
One thing this year has taught us is that the status quo is unacceptable and that the transformative change this moment calls for is within reach. We are in this for our clients, our members, our partners, and our communities.
Thanks for sticking with us,
ACLU of the District of Columbia
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