Law officials used violence and tear gas to clear a large group of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. on June 1, shortly before President Donald Trump staged a photo op at St. John’s Church. It’s now clear that, as disturbing and dangerous as that event was, it came very close to being far worse.
According to an Army National Guard major’s written testimony, which was submitted to House lawmakers on August 28, a top military officer was searching for “weaponry like powerful sound cannons and a device that ‘causes targets to feel an unbearable heating sensation,’" just a few hours before protesters were violently removed from the street, The New York Times reports.
Reports The Times:
The major, Adam DeMarco, an Iraq war veteran who serves in the District of Columbia National Guard and was called in to enforce the crackdown on protesters, told House lawmakers last month that he had received an email from a top law enforcement official at the Defense Department asking if the Guard was equipped with sound cannons or a nonlethal heat ray, known as the Active Denial System, or A.D.S.
“The A.D.S. can immediately compel an individual to cease threatening behavior or depart through application of a directed energy beam that provides a sensation of intense heat on the surface of the skin. The effect is overwhelming,” Marco wrote in this testimony.
Scott Michelman, legal director,of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of the District of Columbia, said in an emailed statement that his organization will see the Trump administration in court for violating the first amendment rights of protesters. “ … We filed the lawsuit Black Lives Matter D.C. v. Trump — to hold the administration accountable for its authoritarian crackdown at Lafayette Square against demonstrators demanding racial justice and an end to police brutality,” he said.
As Colorlines reported on September 15, protesters fighting against systemic racism and police brutality nationwide have been risking severe bodily harm since George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25. In fact, 115 protesters have been shot in the head by officers using “crowd-control weapons” against them, Colorlines reported.
According to The Times:
Major DeMarco also said that federal officials stockpiled “approximately 7,000 rounds” of live ammunition in the hours before the clash, transferring the munitions from as far as Missouri and Tennessee to the nation’s capital.
The Guard ultimately did not have either [the cannons or the heat ray], Major DeMarco said. But the exchange, including the previously unreported disclosure that top military officials sought out controversial military-grade equipment, provides a window into the law enforcement response toward [peaceful protesters.]
“This was an official inquiry made by a Department of Defense official into the availability of a heat ray to use against American citizens peacefully expressing their First Amendment rights,” David H. Laufman, the lawyer representing Major DeMarco, said in an interview with The Times. “There is nothing ‘routine’ about giving serious consideration to using such a device against our fellow citizens peacefully demonstrating in the streets of our nation’s capital.”
“What federal forces actually did [on June 1] — deploy tear gas, rubber bullets, and baton charges against defenseless civil rights protestors — was appalling enough,” Michelman said in his statement. “This regime is distinguished from every other in modern times both by its appetite for cruelty and its utter contempt for our Constitution and the rule of law.”