(Note: This release was corrected at 6:31 p.m. June 2, 2020 to remove the phrase: “did not unholster their batons.” We apologize for the error.)
On Monday, June 1, 2020, Arlington County took the extraordinary action of withdrawing police officers that we had detailed to the District of Columbia on Sunday, May 31, under a longstanding Mutual Aid agreement with the United States Park Police. The officers were asked to assist in the response to protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
For years, Arlington has participated in mutual aid arrangements across our region. We participate in these agreements because they benefit both the jurisdiction requesting the aid and the jurisdiction providing it, by helping ensure a coordinated response and public safety in the face of natural disasters, such as hurricanes; largescale events, such as presidential inaugurations or the Marine Corps Marathon; or attacks, such as 9/11. We deeply value these agreements to support each other in providing public safety. The County made the decision to withdraw Arlington officers from the operation under the command of the United States Park Police when we realized that our officers had been caught up in a forceful action to remove peaceful protesters more than a half-hour before the curfew imposed by the District was to go into effect.
As has been widely reported, for the sake of a photoshoot for the President, peaceful protesters were forcefully dispersed without being given enough time to comply with orders to move back. Our officers had no idea that the effort to move protesters was for any reason other than to construct a temporary barrier.
The United States Park Police initially requested assistance from Arlington Police on Saturday, May 30. Under our Memorandum of Agreement with the United States Park Police, Arlington agreed to provide officers who are highly trained and skilled in peaceful crowd control and dispersal. On Sunday, May 31, those officers, along with two Police commanders, were stationed near Lafayette Park, where large crowds of protesters had gathered. They were held in reserve until approximately 10:30 p.m. when they were deployed to help move protesters back from H Street, to make it possible for firefighters to put out fires that had been set in shops and stores along the street.
On Sunday evening, the Park Police requested that Arlington return Monday to continue to assist them. The County agreed to that request but informed the Park Police that Monday would be the last day of our aid. On Monday, June 1, Arlington police officers returned to their staging area at Lafayette Park. At 2 p.m., the Arlington commanders were informed that later in the day they would be closing H Street to allow safe space for construction crews to build a physical barrier at the edge of the park. At approximately 6:20 p.m., more than a half-hour before the District’s curfew was to go into effect, demonstrators were ordered to leave the area. Approximately 10 minutes later, our police officers, under the command of the Park Police, were asked to redirect protestors away from the edge of Lafayette Park. It was later learned that the President used this opportunity to walk from the White House across the Park to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed briefly for photographs before returning to the White House.
Arlington’s police officers were professional and honorable in their conduct. During this event, they did not fire rubber bullets or tear gas at the protesters. They used their presence to push protesters back. After the initial push back, our officers were replaced and returned to the staging area. At that time, having watched the events unfold on live television news coverage, the County Manager, with the full support of the County Board, ordered the Chief of Police to withdraw Arlington’s officers and return them to the County. Our officers departed the District by 8:30 p.m. Monday.
This unprecedented decision by the County was a necessary response to an unprecedented situation. Arlington still believes that our regional mutual aid agreements are beneficial to our community and to our neighboring communities. But the Manager, the Police Chief and the County Board will be re-evaluating those agreements to ensure that our police officers, of whose efforts to reflect the values of our community we are proud, are never again put in a situation where they are asked to take action that is inconsistent with our values.
Libby Garvey, Chair
Christian Dorsey, Member
Katie Cristol, Member
Matt de Ferranti, Member
Arlington County Board
Mark Schwartz, County Manager