In taking purposeful action last week against a group of people they categorized as law breakers, police in the nation’s capital say their sole intent was to quell violence and property destruction.
They likely weren’t thinking too much about ancillary consequences, punctuated by a prominent spotlight that now hovers harshly over their chosen strategy in interacting with the general public.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened last Friday, when, on Inauguration Day for incoming President Donald Trump, Washington, D.C., policemen engaged in state action involving more than 200 people situated outside in a downtown corridor: The cops encircled all the individuals within that area and then made mass arrests, slapping on those people the federal criminal charge of rioting.
Unsurprisingly, police officials say their actions were absolutely necessary.
And, equally unsurprising, a number of people at the scene — including attorneys and national news reporters — say they were not.
In fact, it didn’t take but a few hours following the arrests for the police department to find itself as the named defendant in a federal lawsuit alleging that their conduct constitutionally violated the rights of many people who were merely exercising their lawful prerogatives of peaceful assembly and public protest.
Myriad eyewitnesses state that the mass corralling rounded up few — if any — individuals who had actually inflicted damage. Instead, say critics of the police action, high numbers of mere bystanders and peaceful protestors bore the brunt of what one on-the-scene attorney termed mass arrests “without individualized probable cause.”
A previous corral-and-arrest effort carried out by metropolitan police back in 2002 also brought a federal lawsuit. That complaint just recently settled, resulting in more than $13 million in damages being awarded to persons who were arrested pursuant to that police action.