On June 2, 2020, the President of the United States did something that, if it had occurred at most other points in US history, would be widely known and condemned. If Obama or any other Democrat president had done what Trump did that day, the entire nation would be calling for his impeachment. What Trump did is not only reprehensible but downright unconstitutional. What he did that day transcends partisan politics in its sheer magnitude, and should make even the most diehard conservative hold Trump in the utmost contempt. I am of course referring to what happened at Lafayette Park in DC.
Given the proximity to the White House, that particular place has been a popular place to hold protests for decades, if not centuries. Almost every day, one could find some protest or another taking place there, with some people even deciding to pitch their tents in the park to protest. These types of public demonstrations are expressly protected in Section A of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and the continuation of a well-functioning democracy is contingent on the preservation of the fundamental rights to hold them. Nothing, not even the president’s word, is above the fundamental rights of all Americans written into the constitution.
As I am sure all of you are well aware, there has been a wave of protests occurring across the US (and elsewhere) during these past few weeks against the actions of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd and who now faces second-degree murder charges. While it is true that some have been violent and resulted in looting, vandalism, and wanton destruction, there are many others (such as the one at Lafayette Square) that were peaceful. On the day in question, protesters held a nonviolent demonstration in the park. At the same time, Trump was delivering his “Law and Order” speech in front of the White House, quite fitting for what was about to do next.
At 6:35 PM, the President gave the order to round all of the protestors up and clear them out of the park. It is important to note that the DC curfew was at 7 PM, thus the protesters had every right to be there. According to reports, little to no warning was given to protesters ahead of time. The federal guards, secret service police, and law enforcement officers dispatched to disperse the protesters also received authorization/orders to hit them with tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases riot shields and batons. Even if you believe the protesters shouldn't have been there, nothing justified this type of action. Law-abiding citizens, exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly, were subject to draconian policing tactics designed to counter violent riots, and which in this context would only serve to further incite violence. No one was spared from this brutal treatment – not bystanders, not the media, not anyone else.
So, what was the reason for President Trump to order the expulsion of these peaceful protesters who were exercising their constitutional right to protest? It wasn’t to protect the public. Instead, it was so that he could clear the path for him to walk directly out the front door of the White House, through Lafayette Park, and have a photo-op of him holding a bible in front of a church across the street. According to reports, the clearing of the park was coordinated so that Trump could end his speech in the rose garden and head directly to the church. The most ironic part of this is the fact that the president stayed outside for the photoshoot past the curfew, despite him making it illegal for anyone else to do the same. Then, to add religious insult to injury, the president also ordered that the priests of the church be expelled from the area so that he could stand there. When Trump got to the church, he turned his back on it. He didn’t pray and he didn’t reflect on his actions. All he did was take out a bible and make various poses for the camera. And the worst part was that instead of being used to show support for anything, the photos were used for a video montage set to music – a campaign stunt – the next day.
Nothing Trump did that day exemplified what a President is supposed to uphold, nor was any of it about reconciliation, progress, repair, or even amelioration or de-escalation of the situation. The sole purpose of what Trump did was to inflame, to “trigger the libs” while beating the crap out of innocent civilians exercising their right to protest. The actions of Trump on that day were those that one would expect to see from the tin-pot dictator of a Banana Republic, not the leader of the free world.
This isn’t a bipartisan issue. This is an affront to the constitution, and to democracy itself. For an issue that should be on the front and center of every news cover, why has the response been so lacking? Why haven’t we heard a peep from the gun-toting 2nd Amendment activists who weeks ago, claimed to be fighting for their constitutional rights against tyranny? Why has the right-wing media been so silent on this, despite constantly rallying against the so-called Deep State’s abuses of power? Where were all of the Republicans who claim to care about law and order, when the actions that Trump ordered were anything but lawful? If you care about a rule of law that applies to everyone, then you ought to be appalled and outraged at what happened on June 2nd at Lafayette Park.