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ACLU demands investigation into Trump's 'life-threatening' use of tear gas on protesters — but there are conflicting reports


Was it tear gas or smoke canisters?

Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Many observers — both on the left and on the right — are incensed over President Donald Trump's controversial photo op Monday at St. John's Episcopal Church and are calling the clearing of protesters to make way for Trump and his entourage "cowardly," "dangerous," and "shameful."

But the American Civil Liberties Union took it a step further Tuesday demanding investigation into whether Trump broke international law by allegedly calling for the use of tear gas to disperse the crowd.

"This appears to be grossly unjustified use of a chemical weapon on protesters and raises serious human rights concerns under international law," the ACLU said. "Elected officials, including Congress, must investigate this politically-motivated, life-threatening use of indiscriminate weapons."

What are the details?

The alleged use of tear gas to clear demonstrators who were protesting George Floyd's death in Lafayette Square has been widely disseminated in online reports and on social media since Monday night, as people on the ground recalled feeling a stinging sensation in their lungs.

The Washington Post reported with apparent certainty that tear gas, flash-bang shells, and rubber bullets were used by the National Guard to clear the path. Attorney General William Barr visited the scene at 6:30 p.m., the Post reported, and shortly thereafter, "chaos ensued":

Members of the National Guard knelt briefly to put on gas masks, before suddenly charging eastward down H Street, pushing protestors down toward 17th Street. Authorities shoved protestors down with their shields, fired rubber bullets directly at them, released tear gas and set off flash-bang shells in the middle of the crowd.

Protestors began running, many still with their hands up, shouting, "Don't shoot." Others were vomiting, coughing and crying.

Roughly 30 minutes later, after the president finished his remarks in the Rose Garden, he and a small company of top advisers made their way through the streets to the church, Bible in hand.

What are the conflicting reports?

But a definitive statement has yet to be made regarding the use of tear gas by any of the law enforcement and military agencies involved, which includes the Park Police, the D.C. police, the Secret Service, and the National Guard.

WTOP-TV reporter Neal Augenstein is pushing back against reports that Park Police deployed tear gas, suggesting that a source from the agency told him that smoke canisters, without uncomfortable irritant, were used instead.

He added that his source said the Park Police were not even aware that the president would be moving through the area, but rather deployed the canisters after protesters began heaving water bottles at them.

When Augenstein asked the Secret Service and the D.C. police, both agencies declined to comment one way or another on the use of munitions. Of course, the Post article indicates that it was the National Guard in concert with other law enforcement that deployed the tear gas.

While Augenstein notes that something was assuredly fired since several reporters on the ground took notice of an irritating munition, it is simply not confirmed that the munition was tear gas as is being widely reported.

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