WASHINGTON — Republican and Democratic members of Congress appeared to agree that U.S. Park Police and supporting federal agencies were legally allowed to tell protesters to leave Lafayette Square Park four Mondays ago. What’s in question is how they did it: with loudspeakers, batons, stinger ball grenades, and tear gas.
Park Police lead the June 1 sweep of protesters outside Lafayette Square Park, supported by Arlington Police, Secret Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. All but the Bureau of Prisons, which has not responded to WUSA9 questions, deny using tear gas, despite our evidence and supporting video that shows it happening.
Witnesses from a Black Lives Matter protester to an Australian journalist testified to the House Committee on Natural Resources, the group overseeing the Park Police.
“A flashbang went off at my ankle,” recalled protester Kishon McDonald.
“I was struck across the back with a truncheon and I was hit a few times in the leg with non-lethal bullets,” testified Australian journalist Amelia Brace.
Multiple Republican House members said the Black Lives Matter protesters were not taking part in a peaceful protest.
"To describe what happened in Washington, D.C. as mostly peaceful protests I think is a lot like describing Scott Petersen as a mostly faithful husband or Al Capone as a mostly law-abiding businessman," Rep Tom McClintock (R - Calif.) said.
Some Congressmembers showed videos, including ones that aired first on WUSA9, showing the fires near St. John’s Church and vandalism from Sunday, May 31.
But as we reported, and was pointed out by multiple witnesses, the protest on Monday, June 1 was a different group of people. It was peaceful until the moment federal police agencies pushed to clear Lafayette Park’s H Street.
"Prejudging a group of people based on unrelated actions, actions separate from them, might be at the heart of the very problem here," commented committee chair Rep. Raul Grijalva.
Republican members of Congress defended the Park Police, saying its acting chief wrote them to say that because one of the protesters is involved in an ACLU lawsuit against their agency, it would be legally risky for him to testify at the same time.
Park Police emphasized in that same letter that it gave three warnings using a specialized LRAD loudspeaker system. Because of that, Republican committee members labeled protesters an ”illegal assembly” that federal police were in their rights to remove off H Street.
WUSA9 cameras caught those critical moments when the loudspeaker announcements were lost in the crowd noise and few, if any, people appeared to understand that federal police were not going by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 7p.m. curfew, but a new federal deadline of 6:30 p.m.
Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado pointed out WUSA9’s collection of evidence, from Stinger Ball grenades to OC and CS tear gas canisters fired by federal police agencies at protesters and asked this question for fellow members of Congress to hear:
"Do you have any concerns as journalists and others who were there if they had not shared photos of OC and CS gas canisters and videos that occurred that we may not have known the truth?"