The federal government, including President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr, is being sued by the Washington D.C. chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement for violating protesters' constitutional rights, according to a statement released by the ACLU.

On Monday, protesters were forcibly pushed out of Lafayette Square, which is just north of the White House, earlier than the city’s mandated curfew. Following the violent dispersal, the president went to take a photo outside of a nearby church, leading to the widespread belief protesters were harmed solely for the purpose of a photo-op. 

“This case is about the President and Attorney General of the United States ordering the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators who were speaking out against discriminatory police brutality targeted at Black people,” the lawsuit reads, according to BuzzFeed News.

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court on Thursday, accuses officers of attacking demonstrators without warning and using excessive force tactics, stating the police had "no legitimate basis to destroy the peaceable gathering."

Moments after flash-bangs, tear gas, smoke canisters, pepper balls and rubber bullets had been deployed on protesters, Trump walked to St. John’s Episcopal Church and posed with a bible. The church was set on fire last week and was boarded up at the time of the photo.

“What happened to our members Monday evening, here in the nation’s capital, was an affront to all our rights,” said April Goggans, a core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. “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. We won’t be silenced by tear gas and rubber bullets. Now is our time to be heard.”

Plaintiffs include a woman who was in the park with her 9-year-old and other demonstrators from D.C. and Maryland who said they were injured while in the park and are afraid of returning to demonstrate their right to free speech.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of D.C., the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Arnold & Porter.

It states that park police were joined by the Secret Service, D.C. National Guard, Arlington County Police and U.S. Army military police who all charged into the crowd 30 minutes prior to the 7 p.m. curfew. According to the lawsuit, a witness heard an announcement regarding the curfew and an explosion concurrently.

U.S. Park Police attest that protesters had thrown bricks, water bottles and caustic liquids and that protesters were given three warnings before police became aggressive. Officers dispute the claim that they used tear gas, but the lawsuit states lawyers have evidence proving otherwise.

Also included in the lawsuit are the many arrests made by the Metropolitan Police Department of peaceful protesters.

“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,” said Scott Michelman, legal director of the ACLU of D.C. “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.”

The ACLU intends to file more lawsuits across the country in response to police using excessive force against civilians expressing their First Amendment rights and in response to police arresting journalists.

“Across the country, law enforcement armed with military weaponry are responding with violence to people who are protesting police brutality,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The First Amendment right to protest is under attack, and we will not let this go unanswered. This is the first of many lawsuits the ACLU intends to file across the country in response to police brutality against protesters.”

Clergy linked to the Episcopal Church were among the protesters who were attacked, reported The Guardian.

“They turned holy ground into a battleground,” the Rev. Gini Gerbasi, rector of Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown, said. 



On Thursday Barr defended the use of force, saying he made the decision to disperse the crowd because protesters were "becoming increasingly unruly," and the clash was a result of relocating authorities, The Hill reported

"There was no correlation between our tactical plan of moving the perimeter out by one block and the president's going over to the church," Barr said.

Trump said he was unaware of the force used by officials to clear the park.

"When I said go to the church, I didn't know, protesters or not, nobody tells me that. They say, 'Yes sir, we'll go to the church,'" he said.