Park Police issue statement on clearing of Lafayette Park

CNN and other outlets have been beating the drum about President Trump’s walk to a nearby church yesterday, specifically claiming that peaceful protesters were hit with tear gas in order to move them out of the way. But today the Chief of the US Park Police issued a statement saying his officers didn’t use any tear gas, only smoke canisters.

The United States Park Police (USPP) is committed to the peaceful expression of First Amendment rights. However, this past weekend’s demonstrations at Lafayette Park and across the National Mall included activities that were not part of a peaceful protest, which resulted in injuries to USPP officers in the line of duty, the destruction of public property and the defacing of memorials and monuments. During four days of demonstrations, 51 members of the USPP were injured; of those, 11 were transported to the hospital and released and three were admitted.

Multiple agencies assisted the USPP in responding to and quelling the acts of destruction and violence over the course of the weekend in order to protect citizens and property.

On Monday, June 1, the USPP worked with the United States Secret Service to have temporary fencing installed inside Lafayette Park.  At approximately 6:33 pm, violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids. The protestors also climbed onto a historic building at the north end of Lafayette Park that was destroyed by arson days prior. Intelligence had revealed calls for violence against the police, and officers found caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street.

To curtail the violence that was underway, the USPP, following established policy, issued three warnings over a loudspeaker to alert demonstrators on H Street to evacuate the area. Horse mounted patrol, Civil Disturbance Units and additional personnel were used to clear the area. As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls. No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park. Subsequently, the fence was installed.

There were widespread reports on television and in print yesterday that tear gas was used. Here’s the NY Times:

As Mr. Trump delivered a speech in the Rose Garden vowing to send the military to states where governors could not bring rioting under control but calling himself “an ally of all peaceful protesters,” the sound of explosions and the yells of demonstrators could be heard. After receiving repeated warnings to disperse before the city’s curfew, the crowd was tear-gassed.

That story does confirm that multiple warnings were issued. Here’s a separate story at the NY Times making the same claim.

…police fired flash-bang explosions and tear gas and used officers on horseback to drive away peaceful protesters as Mr. Trump appeared in the Rose Garden and threatened to send the United States military into states where governors could not bring protests under control.

Was tear gas used? WTOP reporter Neil Augenstein got the same story from the Park Police, however there were other agencies there yesterday including the DC Police and the Secret Service. The former denied using tear gas.

However, the Secret Service wouldn’t say.

Maggie Haberman calls this a bizarre distinction.

Hunter Walker, a reporter for Yahoo, took issue with Laura Ingraham for claiming no tear has was used. Walker was approaching the park just as the police began pushing people out. You can see exactly what happened in his clip. At 7:00 minutes both he and others complain their eyes are burning from the gas and he turns back down the street to get away from it.

I do see a couple of different colors of gas in this clip (near the end). Perhaps the Secret Service was using something the Park Police were not?

The tear gas issue is a proxy fight between people who don’t think Trump should not have cleared the park of protesters for any reason and those who think clearing the protesters (who had injured dozens of police officers and set the church on fire the night before) was appropriate as a symbolic act of restoring order. And even that debate is part of an even larger debate about how to deal with the riots and looting we saw around the country last night. That debate is going to continue and may shift depending how out of control things get tonight.

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