Black Lives Matter filed suit against President Donald Trump and his administration on Thursday, alleging their civil rights and First Amendment right were violated after peaceful protesters were forced out of Lafayette Square so Trump could take a photo in front of a nearby church.
Protesters demonstrating peacefully against police violence in the wake of George Floyd’s were forced out of the square in Washington, D.C., on Monday by U.S. Park Police and the National Guard. Journalists and protesters alike reported that the otherwise peaceful demonstration was met with authorities using horses, projectiles and gas to force them out.
Clearing out the square came just moments before Trump left the White House and came to a stop at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed for a photo with a Bible.
The D.C. chapter of the activist organization filed the suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union against the administration for violating their First Amendment and Fourth rights, which protect the right to protest and protect against unreasonable search and seizure.
Authorities fired flash-bang shells, tear gas, smoke canisters, pepper balls, and rubber bullets into the crowd, the suit said. U.S. Park Police has disputed its officers used tear gas on protesters during the incident.
The lawsuit also claims the administration committed a conspiracy to deprive them of their civil rights and protections.
“The conspiracy targeted Plaintiffs’ protected First Amendment activities because Defendants held animus towards Plaintiffs’ viewpoints,” the lawsuit said. “The violent actions of the conspirators directly and unlawfully interfered with these activities.”
BLM and the ACLU are asking for a jury trial in the case, according the to suit filed in the U.S. District Court for Washington D.C.. The groups are also asking for a judge to grant relief, issuing an injunction to stop the administration from continued use of force against protesters.
“Defendants’ actions to shut down the Lafayette Square demonstration is the manifestation of the very despotism against which the First Amendment was intended to protect,” the suit said.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a NBC News request for comment on the lawsuit.
Attorney General William Barr, who is also named in the lawsuit, defended the use of force on protesters on Thursday. Barr alleged the administration was provoked by increasing violence.
“On Monday we were still facing very large demonstrations that were belligerent and throwing projectiles,” Barr said, adding that “it’s very important to use sufficient forces — law enforcement to establish law and order in a city when you have riots running. If you use insufficient resources, it’s dangerous for everybody.”
Multiple news outlets with reporters at the scene on Monday have contradicted claims of escalating violence, noting that the group had been in the park for hours without any notable incidents of aggression.