Protesters Claim They Were Beaten by Officers : Dissent: An anti-war group lodges a complaint charging that the National Park Police roughed up drumbeating demonstrators across from the White House.
An anti-war group has complained that National Park Police officers roughed up demonstrators in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, as they beat drums and carried placards last Sunday to protest American involvement in the Persian Gulf War.
In a letter to a congressional subcommittee responsible for the Park Police budget, the Washington Area Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East alleged that Park Police officers kicked and choked protesters, assaulted them with nightsticks and threw them to the ground.
The group also cited other incidents in which Park Police allegedly videotaped demonstrators and improperly ejected them from the park.
“The coalition believes that Congress should look very closely at the Park Police’s behavior . . . and adopt appropriate restrictions . . . that protect those in our society who exercise their First Amendment rights,” the letter said.
A spokesman for the Park Police, a unit of the National Park Service, defended the conduct of his officers.
“We always act in a professional manner, to my knowledge,” said Deputy Chief William W. McQueeney. “We have to keep the park orderly.”
McQueeney said his office in recent days has received several complaints about police conduct at Lafayette Park, including activity last Sunday. Those complaints are being investigated by the commanding officers in charge of the units involved, he said.
Since the United States first dispatched troops to the Persian Gulf last August, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, anti-war demonstrators have gathered regularly in Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue north of the White House.
On some weekends, the demonstrators have numbered in the thousands, McQueeney said, although the weekday and weeknight crowds have been substantially smaller. Since President Bush announced a cease-fire last Wednesday, only a handful of demonstrators have gathered in the park, officials said.
Some of the demonstrators continually beat drums to protest the war, an action that McQueeney said has on occasion violated park noise regulations. In addition, McQueeney said, some protesters have been arrested for violating regulations that ban camping in the park.
The Park Police handle law enforcement activities in national parks in urban areas across the country. Park rangers supervise national parks in rural settings, McQueeney said.