On Friday, the Justice Department
requested that a federal judge dismiss a lawsuit
filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against former President Donald Trump
for violence against protesters in Washington, D.C.
's Lafayette Square
a year ago.
Demonstrators protesting the police
killing of George Floyd
were brutally cleared from the area by officers wielding stun grenades, pepper balls, smoke, and batons so that Trump could walk from the White House
across the square to St. John's Baptist Church, where he posed with a Bible for a photo op. The leader of the church was "outraged" that it was used for the cynical stunt.
A National Guard
major on the scene complained that officers used "excessive force" against protesters, and the Australian
government demanded an investigation
after journalists from across the country were brutally beaten by police.
Law enforcement cleared protesters from Lafayette Square “peacefully” ahead of Trump’s walk: pic.twitter.com/Yd017XXtUm — Will Steakin (@wsteaks) June 3, 2020
quickly filed a lawsuit against Trump, as well as former Attorney General William Barr
and other officials, on behalf of Black Lives Matter
and individual protesters for the “unconstitutional” and “truly criminal attack
.” The suit alleged that Trump and Barr illegally “conspired to deprive” the demonstrators of their civil rights
However, DOJ attorneys argued Friday that Trump and other officials are immune from lawsuits based on police actions taken to protect a president, and that further attacks on protesters are unlikely now that Trump is no longer president, according to The Washington Post
. President Joe Biden
and his administration, according to the DOJ, do not share Trump's hostility toward the racial justice
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union retorted that the government's defense would "authorize brutality with impunity" in the heart of the nation's capital, where human rights
violations are particularly egregious.
If the government's defense is upheld, it would excuse accountability for any offense, lawyers contended. In such a case, US authorities "could have used live ammunition to clear the park, and nobody would have a claim against that as an assault
on their constitutional rights," according to Scott Michelman, legal director for the ACLU in the District of Columbia, according to the Post.
According to ACLU attorney Randy Mastro, protesters were targeted by the Trump administration
because of “their viewpoint, message, and speech.” Trump, who shared a reference on Twitter calling the peaceful demonstrators “terrorists,” tweeted the day after the square was cleared: “Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination.”
The “conduct here was so flagrantly illegal and so obviously unconstitutional that it requires a remedy,” Mastro said, adding, “We are here today, your honor, to do everything we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again in our country.”