Democrats demand investigation over clearing of protesters outside White House

10 June 2020, 08:40

The Democratic lawmakers want to know if police in the capital abided by the law
The Democratic lawmakers want to know if police in the capital abided by the law. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Democratic lawmakers have demanded an investigation into whether US Park Police broke any laws when clearing protesters from in front of the White House last week.

Officials in Donald Trump's administration have denied that federal forces cleared the way for the president so he could have a photo opportunity in front of St John's Church in Washington DC.

Park Police and other security forces - such as the National Guard and the DC's Metropolitan Police - threw chemical agents to clear Lafayette Square near the White House on 1 June.

Some were filmed punching and clubbing protesters and journalists as demonstrations intensified across the country following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

The three Democrats - Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva of Arizona, and Committee Vice Chair, Representative Debra Haaland of New Mexico - made the request in a letter to Interior Department inspector general Mark Lee Greenblatt.

"The First Amendment rights to free speech, peaceful assembly, and free press are the building blocks of all other rights," the three lawmakers said.

"Any actions by the Park Police to muzzle these rights is an affront to all Americans and should be swiftly addressed."

Officials were in the early stages of reviewing the request, said department spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo.

Several hundred officers, under the Interior Department's National Park Service, make up the US Park Police.

They are responsible for enforcing the law in Lafayette Square, at the Statue of Liberty in New York, and at a small number of other heavily visited federal sites.

An Interior Department spokesman, Conner Swanson, called the lawmakers' accusations "an insult to the fine men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our citizens and defend America's national treasures."

Following the demonstrations across the US capital, a number of members of the DC National Guard have tested positive for coronavirus, according to Guard spokeswoman Brooke Davis.

The Guard will not release the exact number, Ms Davis said, however US officials claimed it was, so far, not a large number.

Some of the troops were wearing protective equipment but most were not wearing masks and social distancing was almost impossible to maintain.

US officials say roughly 5,000 Guard members were pulled into Washington for the civil unrest, including 1,200 from the DC Guard, while the rest were drafted in from 11 states.