Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island is calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the role Attorney General William Barr and other top White House officials played in the use of force by U.S. Park Police (USPP) on Monday to disperse protesters before President Trump’s highly criticized walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington.
Calling the use of less-than-lethal weapons against protesters a “reprehensible display,” Cicilline – the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) chairman – wants Barr to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the attorney general’s own role in the suppression of demonstrators angered over the killing of George Floyd.
“The use of these measures for such a contemptuous purpose would be reason for condemnation on its own. However, the Washington Post reported yesterday that you yourself were responsible for this reprehensible display,” Cicilline wrote in a letter to Barr. “Given the issues at stake, and your evident role in suppressing the right of the American people to redress their grievances, it is clear that a special prosecutor must be appointed to investigate your actions and the actions of all executive branch officials involved in this action.”
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In a statement released on Tuesday by the USPP, the law enforcement agency said “no tear gas was used” when clearing a large group of protesters from the area. The USPP said they took the steps “to curtail the violence that was underway,” pushing back against claims that the protest was entirely peaceful.
The Park Police acknowledged using smoke canisters and pepper balls on the protesters.
“As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls when protesters did scatter from the area,” the statement said.
While the USPP said the agency supports the right to protest peacefully, many activists and lawmakers in Washington criticized it for the use of force on Monday evening.
The move by the USPP came after Barr visited Lafayette Park across from the White House, where several thousand protesters had gathered for more demonstrations after the police killing of Floyd.
Soon afterward – and just as Trump was about to address the media in the Rose Garden – law enforcement officers were forcing the protesters back into the crowd to disperse them from the park.
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With smoke still wafting and isolated tussles continuing in the crowd, Trump emerged in the Rose Garden for a dramatic split-screen.
“I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” he declared, before demanding that governors across the nation deploy the National Guard “in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.” And he warned that, if they refused, he would deploy the U.S. military “and quickly solve the problem for them.”
As an additional show of force, Trump announced he was deploying even more of the military to Washington, D.C., after days of violent clashes, arson and looting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.