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Trump photoshoot not why park police cleared Lafayette Square, watchdog says


Police violently evacuated protesters from a park near the White House last June, not so that then-President Donald Trump could arrange a photo op at a nearby church, but to allow a contractor to install a fence, according to a report released Wednesday by the Inspector General of the Interior Ministry. .

The fencing was “in response to the destruction of federal property and injuries inflicted on officers on May 30 and 31,” Home Department Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt said in a statement.

American parks police officials decided to clean up the square “several hours before they learned of a possible presidential visit to the park,” he added.

Police appeared to start cleaning up the square minutes before Trump’s notorious visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church near Lafayette Square, in which he held up a Bible while standing alongside several military and Cabinet officials . The police used tear gas, pepper balls, rubber bullets and lightning grenades to disperse the crowd.

Protesters gathered in the plaza to protest the murder of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis policeman a week earlier. The church had been damaged by a fire during the demonstrations the day before.

In a speech at Rose Garden minutes before attending church, Trump condemned the looting and riots that took place during some of the nationwide mass protests and declared himself “your president of the law and order “.


BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images

Trump holds a Bible during a visit to St. John’s Church near the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd on June 1, 2020.

Trump’s church appearance sparked a widespread backlash, with many accusing the White House of ordering police to clean up the plaza just for the photoshoot and violating protestors’ First Amendment rights.

Trump denied at the time that he had anything to do with police actions. Gregory Monahan, then Chief of the US Parks Police, denied that the plaza cleanup was linked to the church visit during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the matter in July 2020.

“There is 100% zero correlation between our operation and the president’s visit,” Monahan said, adding that the area needs to be cleaned up so ladderless fences can be put in.

Monahan said the decision to put up fences and have police use chemical irritants to eliminate protesters that day was due to “sustained violence” against law enforcement in Washington, DC. But Representative Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) Asked for an example of such violence, Monahan was able to cite only one incident in which a protester hit a helmeted policeman with a brick.

In a statement Wednesday, Trump thanked Greenblatt for having “completely and utterly cleared” me in this matter.

“As we said from the start, and this was backed up in the very detailed and professionally written report, our excellent park police made the decision to clean up the park to allow a contractor to install safely. safety of anti-lime fences, ”said Trump.

Still, the Inspector General’s office found “weaknesses in the park clean-up operation,” including the deployment of US secret services before police began dispersal warnings, which were not loud enough for everyone to hear them, Greenblatt said in his statement.

The Inspector General’s office made two recommendations in its report: “Given the lack of a specific policy, we recommend that the USPP develop a detailed policy for demonstrations and other such events that have occurred. on June 1 and improve its communication procedures in the field to better manage multi-agency operations.

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