Within the massive protests that happened in the summer of 2020 calling attention to the murder of George Floyd and the need for substantial police reform, the incident at Washington’s Lafayette Square is still jarring to think about–given the manner and tools used to disperse a peaceful protest. It’s a continuation of what we’ve seen in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, where calls for equal treatment of Black people in this country are met with riot gear and tear gas.
CNN reports that the Justice Department has settled claims in four civil lawsuits brought by racial justice demonstrators who said their rights were violated in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. The lawsuits alleged that federal agencies used excessive force to enable a “photo op” of former President Donald Trump.
Former attorney Bill Barr provided the order to clear the park. An Inspector General review stated that Park Police did not clear protestors so that Former President Trump could take a picture with an upside-down bible, but because it was part of a plan made earlier in the day for a contractor to install fencing.
“The federal government is committed to the highest standards for protecting civil rights and civil liberties in any federal law enforcement response to public demonstrations,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement Wednesday. “These changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights.”
Organizer for Black Lives Matter DC, April Goggans, spoke on how the settlement is a step in the right direction.
“Today marks a win for the ongoing resistance against all attempts to subvert dissent,” said April Goggans, core organizer of Black Lives Matter DC, in a statement. “These attempts to disrupt the ability to organize for an end to the recurring trauma caused to Black communities by police attacks will not go unchallenged.”
As part of the settlement, the U.S. Park Police and Secret Service have agreed to change policies in how they will deal with demonstrations and protests.
The new policies for the U.S. Park Police are as follows:
- Require officers to wear fully visible badges and nameplates, including outerwear, tactical gear, and helmets.
- Implement guidelines aimed at de-escalating violence during protests.
- Adopt clearer procedures for issuing dispersal warnings and permitting demonstrators to disperse.