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United States Park Police officials defended themselves Tuesday from charges that they fired tear gas at protesters outside of the White House, and denied that they dispersed a demonstration just so that President Donald Trump could walk from the White House across the street to the historic St. John’s Church.
Trump and the Park Police both ran afoul of mainstream media commentators for the incident Monday, with many on social media claiming that the Park Police used extraordinary and violent measures to disperse a peaceful protest simply so the president could take photos outside of the historic church which was nearly burned Sunday night, per Fox News.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) excoriated Trump in a statement released Monday evening.
“Across our country, Americans are protesting for an end to the pattern of racial injustice and brutality we saw most recently in the murder of George Floyd,” they said. “Yet, at a time when our country cries out for unification, this President is ripping it apart. Tear-gassing peaceful protestors without provocation just so that the President could pose for photos outside a church dishonors every value that faith teaches us.”
Speaking to WTOP in Washington, D.C., Tuesday morning, though, the Park Police defended themselves, correcting reports that they fired tear gas into the crowd of protesters and claiming that protests outside the White House had been far from peaceful, with demonstrators hurling bottles and rocks at members of law enforcement and scaling national monuments.
“A source says tear gas was never used — instead smoke canisters were deployed, which don’t have an uncomfortable irritant in them,” WTOP reporter Neil Augenstein claimed on social media.” And, the source says Park Police didn’t know President Trump would be walking across the park several minutes later.”
Augenstein also says his source disputed reports that demonstrators were acting peacefully: “Park Police say the reason the crowd was disbursed with smoke canisters is that at that moment, officers were being pelted with water bottles. Another factor was that protesters had climbed on top of the structure at the north end of Lafayette Square that had been burned the day before.”
WTOP was clear to note that the information was coming from the Parks Police and that it represented their side of the story. Augenstein did note that the Parks Police would be releasing a statement on Tuesday further detailing their response Monday afternoon.
The Secret Service, which also took part in crowd control outside of the White House was mum on its tactics, telling Augenstein only that, “for operational security reasons, the U.S. Secret Service does not discuss our protectees or our protective means and methods.” D.C. Police did admit to using tear gas and pepper balls but only “later in the evening” when “protesters had gotten ‘very aggressive’ in Judiciary Square.”
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