The American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter sued the Trump administration for what the groups called an “unconstitutional” and “frankly criminal attack” on protesters outside the White House earlier this week.
The federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of five demonstrators, comes after law enforcement used gas canisters and flash-bang grenades to disperse largely peaceful crowds gathered in Lafayette Square on Monday to protest the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25.
The violent tactics sparked widespread condemnation and calls from some lawmakers for a federal investigation.
“The President’s shameless, unconstitutional, unprovoked, and frankly criminal attack on protesters because he disagreed with their views shakes the foundation of our nation’s constitutional order,” Scott Michelman, legal director for the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in a statement. “And when the nation’s top law enforcement officer becomes complicit in the tactics of an autocrat, it chills protected speech for all of us.”
Attorney General William Barr and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are also named in the suit, which was jointly filed with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The ACLU said the suit was the first of many it plans to file around the country in response to violent policing tactics. Thursday’s suit seeks unspecified damages.
Demonstrations over Floyd’s death as a white police officer knelt on his neck have continued for more than a week and a half around the nation. Many of those demonstrations have devolved into clashes with heavily armed officers, and more than 10,000 people have reportedly been arrested across the country.
Black Lives Matter D.C., the lead plaintiff in the case, said the tactics used by federal officers in the nation’s capital this week were “an affront to all our rights.”
“The death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers has reignited the rage, pain, and deep sadness our community has suffered for generations,” April Goggans, an organizer of BLM D.C., said in a statement. “We won’t be silenced by tear gas and rubber bullets. Now is our time to be heard.”
Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency room technician in Louisville, Kentucky, was killed in her home March 13 when police serving a “no-knock” warrant shot her as they sought to arrest a different person.
The Washington Post notes the ACLU has filed successful lawsuits after mass protests in Washington before, winning multimillion-dollar judgments or getting charges dropped against protesters.