Before we celebrate our most recent win with you about the Lafayette Square case, let's remember how it all began: <[link removed]>
On June 1, 2020, hundreds of people demonstrating against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in Lafayette Square, the park in front of the White House, were dispersed by Park Police and Metropolitan Police officers using chemical irritants, rubber bullets, and sound cannons. Later that evening, former President Trump posed for a photo holding a bible in front of St. John's Episcopal Church.
Within days, the ACLU-D.C., Washington and National Lawyers' Committees for Civil Rights, and Arnold & Porter sued on behalf of Black Lives Matter D.C. and several other protestors to defend their constitutional right to protest and to seek accountability for the government's egregious attack.
As our clients reflected <[link removed]>, they concluded that what we saw in 2020 was only a "snapshot of the violent repression on marginalized people for generations." This movement ignited a renewed effort to challenge the status quo and end our reliance on arrests, criminalization, and violence in the name of public safety. As Toni Sanders, ACLU Plaintiff, noted, "people are realizing the world that has been created so far doesn't have to be the world we continue to live in."
Now, after almost two years of litigation, we can finally say we're winning tangible changes through this case. To settle a portion of the case, the Biden administration has agreed to significant changes in the policies of the Park Police and Secret Service to help ensure that nothing like this happens again. This includes protecting demonstrators' safety by requiring Park Police to enable the safe withdrawal of demonstrators if a protest is being dispersed, and by providing audible warnings before dispersing a crowd and ensuring they are audible, among other reforms.
Our Legal Director Scott Michelman said it best: "It's still shocking and disgusting that an unprovoked attack on demonstrators ordered by the country's top law enforcement professional would happen in a nation that prides itself on democratic ideals. Rights such as those to peaceful assembly... are fundamental to a functioning democracy."
The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 reminded the country that we have a lot to change to fulfill our nation's promise of liberty and justice for all. We believe today's settlement is a small but impactful step in that direction.
Yet still former Attorney General William Barr, who gave the order to respond to civil rights demonstrators with unprovoked violence, along with line-level officers from the Park Police and MPD officers who attacked demonstrators, still must be held accountable. Even as we celebrate the policy changes we have won, we will continue fighting for damages for the clients and all the protesters involved in this horrific and unprovoked assault on people standing up for their civil rights.