Park Police Chief Defends Clearing Black Lives Matter Protesters outside White House

The acting chief of the Park Police on Tuesday defended federal law enforcement agents clearing protesters from outside the White House last month just before President Trump walked through the area for a photo op at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Chief Gregory Monahan said that while he was aware Trump was scheduled to walk through Lafayette Square on June 1, the decision to clear protesters from the park was unrelated to the president’s visit less than a half hour later and was not ordered by the White House.

“We were notified earlier in the day that the president was going to visit Lafayette Park to view the damage that was done to the park over the course of the preceding days, but we were not given a time on when he was visiting,” Chief Gregory Monahan said during testimony to a House Natural Resources Committee hearing.

“There is 100 percent zero correlation between our operation and the president’s visit to the church,” he added.

The largely peaceful protest in front of the White House was forcefully dispersed by law enforcement minutes before Trump walked over to St. John’s, which protesters had set fire to the previous night. Viral video footage of federal officers including Park Police aggressively pushing protesters back from the area sparked criticism and speculation about whether their First Amendment rights had been violated.

Monahan said the videos of the incident did not show previous violence against law enforcement and “one of the most violent” protests he has ever encountered in his decades as a law enforcement officer. Officers used “tremendous restraint” in clearing the demonstrators from the area, he said.

“The use of force that we utilized was in direct correlation to the level of violence that we were subjected to” and was “in line with our policies and procedures,” the Park Police chief said.

Attorney General William Barr defended the decision several days after it occurred, saying the group was “becoming increasingly unruly” and had been asked to move three times.

Barr added that he was unaware of Trump’s plans to walk to St. John’s “until later in the day, after our plans were well underway to move the perimeter” so “there was no correlation between” the two events.

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