The police officers seen on video attacking members of an Australian news crew during what was reported to be a peaceful protest had a “right to defend and protect themselves,” a White House spokesperson said amid growing controversy over the incident.
U.S. President Donald Trump has come under fire for the incident on Monday in which police officers forcefully pushed peaceful protesters back from an area near the White House so that Trump could hold a photo op in front of a church. The aggressive actions of the police were widely criticized, with a number of members of Trump’s own party criticizing him for what they saw as unnecessary force for what amounted to a political photo op.
During this action, members of the U.S. Park Police were seen striking members of a Seven Network news crew, using a shield to hit a cameraman in the midsection and striking a reporter on the back with a baton as she fled after screaming. As Australia’s SBS News reported, two of the officers from the U.S. Park Police seen attacking the television news crew have been placed on administrative leave while the incident is under investigation, but White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has defended their actions and claimed that the police had “a right to defend themselves.”
“The officers had no other choice than, in that moment, to act and make sure that they were safe and that the perimeter was pushed back,” she said.
McEnany said that police gave verbal warnings before pushing out the protesters, though many reported that they never heard these warnings before police began to advance and fire tear gas. McEnany also pushed back against reporters asking why tear gas needed to be used, disputing that it was tear gas fired by the officers.
As the Washington Post reported, the Trump administration has insisted that the federal officers who took part in clearing the streets outside the White House did not fire tear gas or use rubber bullets, though the report noted the canisters fired into the crowd were irritants that met the definition of tear gas from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The Park Police acknowledged firing ‘pepper balls,’ a projectile munition that lofts irritant powder into the air, and ‘smoke canisters’ to scatter the crowd Monday,” the report noted. “The agency has not provided more details about the contents of the smoke it deployed, and a spokesman for the Park Police did not respond to requests seeking clarification Wednesday.”
After the attack on the news crew, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for an investigation.