In just 10 days of protest in late May and early June of 2020, more than 10,000 protesters were arrested by police across the US as millions hit the streets and faced a militant police response. They were, ironically, protesting police violence.
Washington, DC’s chief legal officer has revealed that charges against 220 protesters arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest last summer will not be prosecuted.
“We declined to prosecute the vast majority of protesters who were arrested in early June 2020 for violating the Mayor’s curfew order while peacefully protesting in the District,” Abbie McDonough, director of communications for the Officer of the Attorney General of Washington DC, told local media on Thursday.
“OAG is also proactively offering to file motions on behalf of eligible individuals and ask a judge to seal their arrest records to help make the process easier for those individuals and reduce hurdles to have their arrest records sealed.”
According to WJLA, only five people have actually been charged for curfew violations from any of the arrests made in early June. However, while 220 arrested will not be prosecuted, 80 of them are not eligible to have their records sealed.
After Minneapolis, Minnesota, Black resident George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a now-jailed former city police officer, in late May 2020, protests erupted across the country, including in the nation’s capital. By June 1, they had already become the largest mass uprising seen in the US since the 1960s, and then-US President Donald Trump began toying with the possibility of invoking the Insurrection Act and deploying active-duty US troops to the streets to reinforce the National Guard.
After threatening to invoke the act in a stormy speech in the White House Rose Garden on the afternoon of June 1, Trump then exited via the mansion’s front door and crossed Lafayette Park to pose in front of a nearby church with a Bible. However, just moments earlier and well before the 7 pm curfew, DC and federal police had violently cleared the park and surrounding streets of hundreds of peaceful protesters, deploying tear gas, stinger grenades, and horses, and attacking both protesters and the press indiscriminately.
The attack was just the beginning of a city-wide crackdown by police and National Guard that night, who cleared the streets with prolific use of force that included Army helicopters “buzzing” protesters just feet above their heads in a so-called “persistent presence” maneuver. According to a redacted DC National Guard report published earlier this month, a strong display of force was clearly desired by Pentagon leaders, but lower-level officers liberally interpreted that directive.
One pilot told the investigators they believed their mission to be to “establish an aerial dominance.”
Meanwhile, police arrested protesters in groups, with the biggest being several dozen people kettled onto Swann Street, a narrow lane roughly a mile from the White House, where police trapped protesters for most of the night and pelted them with tear gas. Many sought refuge in nearby homes, where sympathetic residents opened their doors to shelter them from police. Those 194 people still on the street were arrested and kept zip-tied overnight in packed, enclosed spaces.
Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report on the Swann Street incident, calling for extensive reform of how the DC Metropolitan Police Department handles both mass arrests and curfew violations, calling the situation “a choice” by MPD.
The OAG’s decision comes just days after Washington, DC, agreed to pay out $1.6 million to settle two lawsuits alleging MPD violated the constitutional rights of more than 200 protesters arrested at protests on January 20, 2017, the day Trump was inaugurated as president. According to the suits, MPD rounded protesters up, accused them of rioting after unaffiliated people started fires and smashed shop windows, and then held them without food, water or bathroom access for 16 hours.