Bowser’s Historical Revision: Before Lafayette Park, There Was Pershing Park

Muriel_Bowser_official_photoBelow is my column in The Hill newspaper on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s unquestioned statements about how she is shocked by the federal actions against peaceful demonstrators.  Bowser told CNN’s Cooper “I think I’ve been shocked all week about how the federal government behaved against American citizens.” For some of us, the statement came across as a Claude Rains moment of being “shocked, shocked” that protesters are being silenced in D.C. She (and CNN) ignored the actions of her Chief of Police and her dismissal of objections of civil libertarians to Newsham’s appointment.  Now, that was truly shocking.

Here is the column

The media has concluded that Muriel Bowser is winning against the White House in the battle over law and order in Washington. This is a heroic tale that broadly features her denouncing the federal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park last week. This also happens to be untrue, as not only is the District of Columbia responsible for most of the recent use of force on its streets, but she chose a police chief responsible for one of the most costly and abusive crackdowns on protesters in city history.

I know because I was one of the attorneys who led the litigation against Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham over the infamous World Bank mass arrest of 2002. Despite numerous objections from civil libertarians and his own admitted mass violations of protected constitutional rights, Bowser selected him as her police chief for the District of Columbia.

For several of us who have represented protesters and journalists before, Bowser made a jarring response to the federal clearing of Lafayette Park, declaring that “if you are like me, you saw something that you hoped you would never see in the United States of America.” However, we have seen it, and the man often standing next to her is one of the men who ordered it, a block from Lafayette Park. Indeed, Newsham not only cracked down on peaceful protesters, he cracked down on others present as well.

In 2002, during demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the Metropolitan Police, the Park Police, and others carried out a mass arrest at Pershing Park in Washington. This was a “trap and arrest” tactic in which police funneled people into Pershing Park and Freedom Plaza, where they were prevented from leaving by officers in riot gear from various state and federal departments. Ultimately, hundreds of protesters, journalists, and tourists had been arrested in one day. In order to deal with the huge number of arrests, the District “hogtied” the arrested persons with zip ties from their right wrist to their left ankle and left them for hours on the Police Academy gym.

Unlike with the case of Lafayette Park, no orders had been given to disperse. Newsham simply said it seemed like the crowds of people “were continuing to act as one organized group and would at some point leave the park to continue their unlawful demonstrations in the streets.”

Also on the scene was former Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey. According to several officers, he gave the order to “teach them a lesson” and lock them up. Ramsey denied giving such an order or uttering those words. Instead, his subordinate Newsham took the blame, and the result was millions of dollars in fees, damages, and settlements after more than a decade of intense litigation, including allegations of the destruction of evidence and false statements from District of Columbia officials.

Bowser was obviously not responsible for the police abuses in 2002. But her statement still comes across to some of us as grating. Rather than an operation happening in less than an hour, as in Lafayette Park, that mass arrest ordered by Newsham in 2002 was planned and lasted much of the day. Yet when Bowser selected the man responsible for one of the most costly unconstitutional crackdowns in history, she called him “the best person to be the best police chief for the best city in the world.”

Newsham admits that three orders had been given to clear Lafayette Park last week before Park Police moved forward. Unlike his order in 2002, the Lafayette Park order appears lawful, though many of us believe it was the wrong decision. These orders given in Lafayette Park were made standard procedure after the litigation about Pershing Park. Yet another disconnect between what Bowser said and reality is that the vast majority of scenes of police actions against protesters in the District of Columbia in recent days involve state rather than federal forces. Moreover, only a small fraction of all the arrests and injuries appear related to federal operations.

Yet none of these facts appear in news coverage. Most of the media is still reporting that Attorney General William Barr had ordered Lafayette Park to be cleared and tear gas to be used on protesters to allow President Trump to have his rightly criticized photo in front of the church. But according to Barr and other sources, that decision to expand the perimeter was made the night before by Park Police and approved by Barr the next morning. It had nothing to do with the photo, which arose later in the day.

Barr said he did not know about the photo when the plan was approved or the operation started. The decision was based on injuries, arson incidents, and object throwing. Lafayette Park is cleared regularly for security zones. This does not mean the decision was correct. Barr explained the order to push back the perimeter was delayed until later in the day. The operation should have been delayed further due to a danger of violence, including the unwarranted use of pepper spray. It is not likely that the order or the operation will be found unlawful given the orders to move back.

Litigation may bring to light more evidence, which is very badly needed, particularly on why pepper spray was used or whether tear gas was used. Bowser has been quoted as citing the Lafayette Park incident as a reason why the District of Columbia must be given statehood. Putting aside her good faith reasons for wanting a change in status, statehood would not have prevented the clearing of Lafayette Park, which is federal property. The federal government can defend such property in any city.

What happened in Lafayette Park was wrong, but we will not learn from such lessons today by blotting out the lessons of the past. This history is readily available to Bowser, and it did not start last week. She only has to ask the District of Columbia police chief standing next to her.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

31 thoughts on “Bowser’s Historical Revision: Before Lafayette Park, There Was Pershing Park”

  1. Professor Turley, I love the analogy to the Claud Rains moment in Casablanca! It’s one that I use now and then.

  2. Jonathan: Another fact check is in order. Despite earlier denials, contradicted by photos and observations by reporters, the Secret Service has now been forced to admit that pepper spray, tear gas and flash-bang grenades were used against peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park on June 1.

    And AG William Barr has tripped all over the contradictions regarding his role. First, he claimed he was the one who gave the order to use force to disperse the protesters. He wanted the credit. Now he has back peddled and says he did not give the command order but supports it. This is because he now realizes that using force was a disastrous decision and is trying to disassociate himself from the order. Barr could have rescinded the order the next day but he didn’t. He has dirty hands in this episode despite your nuanced attempts to support your good friend.

    The entire episode demonstrates the extent to which Trump is willing to use force against peaceful protesters to show he is the “law and order” president. Trump admires other authoritarian figures who use force against peaceful protests–like Turkish president Erdogan. Three years ago Erdogan was visiting Trump in Washington. Protests were taking place in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence. What did Erdogan do? He had his “Police Counter Attack Team” attack the demonstrators even though this was a blatant violation of US law! Trump was obviously impressed by Erdogan’s willingness to use violence–even on foreign soil. So Trump’s action in Lafayette Park was a salute to Erdogan–emulation is the greatest form of flattery!

    1. Anonymous – they said almost from the beginning they were using pepper spray. There does not seem to be any tear gas or flash bangs. Need a source for those.

    2. I much prefer the moral high ground to which democrats have ascended, giving full throated support to BLM in their righteous work to put pigs in a blanket and fry ’em like bacon and silence anyone who might dare disagree with their cancel culture point of view. Pepper spray and tear gas can be washed off. A dead cop cannot be brought back to life.

  3. Where is, or was, Pershing Park?
    Who was that Pershing?
    Some war general?
    Black Jack Pershing?

  4. Thanks for more facts and context, and honest disagreement about using force or not at that time. Plus disagreement on pepper spray / tear gas.

    Plus a call for more facts, while noting the (Dem-unspecified by you, but Dem) media censors some facts, in order to create their preferred narrative.

  5. In the absence of leadership and appropriate and constitutional Congressional action, Abraham Lincoln proceeded, unilaterally, to war and suspension of Habeas Corpus to “Save the Union.” President Trump now has the same “duty” and imprimatur as Lincoln to react unilaterally to rebellion and domestic violence to “Save the Republic.”

  6. U.S. Constitution

    Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2

    The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

    Article 4, Section 4

    The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature can-not be convened) against domestic Violence.

  7. Since Turley always finds it worthwhile to pick something about black politicians…

    Here’s Turley’s white president on LIncoln:

    Trump says he did more “more for the black community than any other president,” but will exclude Lincoln “’cause he did good, although it’s always questionable, you know…”

    Harris Faulkner, who’s Black, interjects, “We are free, Mr. President, so he did pretty well.”

    A few months more, just a few more months. They seem sooooo looong.

    1. And, of course, everything Abraham Lincoln did was unconstitutional and will be until such time as the applicable legal procedure is followed. “Crazy Abe” backed in to the presidency with 38.9% of the vote. Then he unconstitutionally denied irrefutably constitutional secession, prosecuted an undeclared war against a sovereign foreign nation, confiscated legal, deeded and recorded private property, issued a proclamation without legal basis or authority, had his military maliciously “fix” the 1864 election, suspended Habeas Corpus and, by extension through his successors, rammed through illegal and improperly ratified amendments under the duress of brutal, post-war, military occupation.

      The key failure of Lincoln was to enforce the Constitution, fundamental law and federal law. The legislative branch establishes immigration policy. The Naturalization Act of 1802 was in full force and effect requiring citizens to be “…free white person(s).” The emancipation proclamation changed the legal status of freed slaves from “property” to “illegal alien.” Freed slaves must have been immediately deported.

      “We are free, Mr. President, so he did pretty well.”

      – Interviewer

      Really, “pretty well?” Look around you. Who’s happy, the rioters, the black criminals who get caught, their friends and families, the NAACP, the Justice Brothers Law Firm of Jackson and Sharpton, Americans and America who must suffer the incessant caterwauling of those incapable of subsistence or assimilation absent the political emulsifiers of generational welfare, forced busing, affirmative action privilege, etc.? Lincoln knew, and has been proven correct in that knowledge, the definitive resolution to slavery was compassionate repatriation. As the Israelite slaves in Egypt immediately relocated, Lincoln understood, so should have the Africans.

  8. Meanwhile, across the country in Seattle, the Black Lives Matter people are complaining that the local anarchists have hijacked their message. Now what was that Black Lives Matter message?

  9. This history is readily available to Bowser, and it did not start last week.

    Nothing a bucket of whitewash can’t take care of.

  10. Protesting includes talking and signs. But you should not be allowed to say “Burn down the White House and leave the Black House alone.”

  11. “This does not mean the decision was correct. Barr explained the order to push back the perimeter was delayed until later in the day. The operation should have been delayed further due to a danger of violence, including the unwarranted use of pepper spray. It is not likely that the order or the operation will be found unlawful given the orders to move back.”
    Oh enough of the mollycoddling. This wasn’t a protest over the unwarranted death of black men. If it was we’d have rioted over the killing of David Dorn and televised his funeral(s). This was a planned exercise in revolution complete with stashes of bricks and Molotovs all over town. No society can tolerate that; nor should it. All political power boils down to force — either in favor of civilization or against it. This mob, who JT characterizes as “peaceful demonstrators,” set fire to at least three structures including a Christian Church and created enough mayhem to justify about any force short of a tank rollup. Was everyone an arsonist, no, but all were aiding and abetting the mayhem by refusing to disperse when lawfully ordered to do so. (Oh and where were all the dire predictions about spreading deadly (.24% death rate) Covid-19?) Could it have been handled differently? Sure. But that’s easy from the comfort of your easy chair. try it from the burning streets sometime. As Homer Joy reminded us in saner, clearer time:

    1. AG Barr changed his story so many times that whatever new explanation he comes up with can’t be taken seriously.

      1. Well, there was the little matter of the attacks on dozens of Secret Service agents. The DC police and the DC Park Police take a dim view of overweening rowdiness. Comes with the territory.

  12. The cynicism of politicians (yes, senior cops are also politicians) is breathtaking.

    But it has been a feature of American life since the beginning.

    What is shocking is the failure of the press to do their job. Is it incompetence or political bias? Most of us know the answer.

  13. The media is supposed to serve democracy by holding politicians to account when they mislead the public. Today, there is a lot of misleading going on but because of their hatred of President Trump, the media have shunned this critical role in favor of doing all they can to destroy a presidency they do not like. For any people who still are able to think, these riots have revealed how feckless state and local democrats are, with Seattle and the State of Washington being the poster child. Imagine, the Mayor of Seattle and its Police Chief are denying that they gave the order to evacuate the precinct. If one of them did give the order, that one is a fool; if they really do not know who gave the order, then both of them are incompetent.

    As to Lafayette Park being an overreaction by the police, I am not so sure about that. If the Park Police, Attorney General Barr and other reports are credible, then Lafayette Park should have been cleared and clearing it had nothing to do with President Trump’s surprise visit to the church. Unfortunately, we cannot trust the press who reported on it because they have a proven track record of lying whenever it helps the narrative along, especially if it hurts President Trump.

    And Paul is absolutely right. The Mayor obviously has forgotten about the Bonus Marchers, or more likely she never knew. But she does not have to go that far back in history. I remember the 1968 DC riots because I was there. Fourteenth Street looked like a war zone because it was. Even the Washington Post heard about those four days of rioting:

    But of course, it was the fault of white people. I do love the Washington Post tag line on the picture of the riots: “Support journalism you can trust when it matters most.” Now that’s rich.

    1. “The media is supposed to serve democracy by holding politicians to account when they mislead the public. ”
      You’re savvy enough to know that our institutions aren’t the solution; they’re the problem.

    2. Re. the justification for reparations to American blacks: the plan ignores the fact that some blacks are descendants of slave traders themselves. (Note that Libya in Africa has open slave trading now, thanks to Democrat Hillary paying “moderate Islamics” to behead and anal rape Ghaddafi, after Ghaddafi paid his financial debt for downing a civilian airliner and after guaranteeing the US would let him live.)

      And some whites are descendants of men who died the most painful death to end slavery. And some blacks who would apparently receive reparations earn more in one year than multiple American families earn in a lifetime.

  14. Were the protesters peaceful or were they, as claimed by the park police, pelting the officers with frozen water bottles and bricks? It should be pretty easy to determine which of the stories is true.

  15. Have we forgotten what MacArthur did to the Bonus Marchers? They must have a crap educational system in DC.

    1. DC educational system spends more per pupil than most school districts in the country and has some of the worst results. No wonder the mayor appears ignorant, the electorate is ignorant.

      1. “…supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote…”

        The Greeks, Romans and American Founders established restricted-vote republics. In 1788 America, the general vote criteria were Male, European, 21 and 50 lbs. Sterling/50 acres, describing “original intent.” In 1788, a turnout of 11.6% of the population put one George Washington in the White House. Never did the Founders imagine that America would deviate from their obviously essential, imperative model; the Founders failed to codify. It went without saying that “property,” slaves (i.e. freed slaves) and women, and the “poor” were never to vote.

        “the people are nothing but a great beast…

        I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.”

        – Alexander Hamilton

        “The true reason (says Blackstone) of requiring any qualification, with regard to property in voters, is to exclude such persons, as are in so mean a situation, that they are esteemed to have no will of their own.”

        “If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.”

        – Alexander Hamilton – The Farmer Refuted, 1775


        republic noun

        re·​pub·​lic | \ ri-ˈpə-blik

        Definition of republic


        b(1) : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law

Leave a Reply