Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Biden Administration Agrees to Change Federal Officer Tactics Following the 2020 Crackdown on Racial Justice Protests

The agreement is part of a settlement with civil rights groups that sued over the Trump administration's violent response to demonstrations.

The Biden administration on Wednesday reached a settlement agreement with four cases in which organizations sued the government for its violent response to racial justice protests that occurred after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. 

Both the U.S. Park Police and Secret Service agreed to update their policies when responding to demonstrations, including visible badges and nameplates, new guidelines on the use of non-lethal force and clearer warnings to disperse before they engage in forceful actions. The lawsuits concerned the agencies' actions at Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House in June 2020. Federal law enforcement deployed officers on horseback, tear gas and smoke bombs to disperse a crowd a head of a photo opportunity in which President Trump held up a bible in front of a nearby church. 

“The federal government is committed to the highest standards for protecting civil rights and civil liberties in any federal law enforcement response to public demonstrations,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said of the settlement. “These changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights.” 

The changes, which also include better coordination between various law enforcement agencies and an acknowledgment that when some demonstrators have engaged in unlawful conduct it does not give federal agents permission to use force or disperse a crowd, will be implemented within the next 30 days. Park Police will face higher barriers to removing demonstration permits, place more restrictions on when it encircles demonstrators and require higher levels of approval for deployment of chemical irritants such as tear gas. The agency faced severe criticism for its using such methods and failing to provide adequate warning. 

The government admitted to none of the allegations it faced in the lawsuits and did not assume any liability. The plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their claims. 

“Today marks a win for the ongoing resistance against all attempts to subvert dissent,” said April Goggans, core organizer for Black Lives Matter D.C. 

Scott Michelman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said his group was pleased with the settlement and it would prevent what happened two years ago from occurring again. 

“Federal officers’ shocking and unprovoked attack against civil rights demonstrators raising their voices in front of the White House to oppose police brutality and racism was a frontal assault on the fundamental American ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and racial justice,” Michelman said. 

The Interior Department’s inspector general found last year that the officers’ actions were not illegal and did not occur directly as a result of Trump’s photo op, though it noted coordination was poor and some actions violated direction from the incident commander.