A 10-year-old child was exposed to pepper spray from police officers during demonstrations that occurred at the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January last year.
The child and his mother are joining a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in June 2017. They join four other individuals who are also suing Washington, D.C. police, alleging civil rights violations during the protests.
Gwen Frisbie-Fulton said she wanted to take her son (named A.S. in the suit to keep his anonymity) to Washington, D.C. to witness the peaceful protests of Trump. The two made the trip from their home in North Carolina and planned to stay for the Women’s March on Washington, as well. But what started out as a civics lesson ended up being a nightmarish situation.
While having a snack and observing demonstrators who had been cordoned off by police, law enforcement “started blasting the crowd on my right with large canisters of pepper spray,” Frisbie-Fulton said. She and A.S., who at that point had tried to leave, were knocked down by other officers coming from the opposite direction during the confusion.
They stood back up and tried to get help from officers, asking where they should go. One officer scolded her for bringing her son to a protest, while another tried to assist them to safety. Unfortunately, mother and son got separated from the second officer and had to find their own way out themselves, fleeing in a crowd of people while the air was full of pepper spray.
A North Carolina resident and her 10-year-old son were knocked to the ground and exposed to pepper spray during protests on Inauguration Day.— ACLU-North Carolina (@ACLU_NC) January 3, 2018
They are now plaintiffs in an @ACLU_DC suit against D.C. police. https://t.co/rp888HDtcW pic.twitter.com/43GsQGEIEb
Both Frisbie-Fulton and A.S. managed to escape the commotion and get to safety, but not before a tense few moments, which the mother described in a statement.
"The street was filled with thick clouds of pepper spray," she said. "I coughed and choked and was having trouble running with my son in my arms. Another demonstrator who I did not know picked up my son and ran with him, still sobbing, further away from the officers as I tried to keep up. By this point, A.S. was also coughing and gasping from the spray or the crying or both. We both coughed for the rest of the day."
Frisbie-Fulton said she did not expect their family trip to end up this way.
“That night after he was asleep, I had to wash pepper spray out of his favorite Star Wars hat that he had been wearing,” she said.
They still tried to go to the Women’s March the following day, but upon seeing a police officer, A.S. got scared, so they left early.
Peaceful protests needn’t become violent. And families who want to participate in them shouldn’t be scared to do so. Yet that’s what happened to the young child and his mother in this instance.
Instead of witnessing what would have been a profoundly democratic moment — voicing dissent against a head of government in a peaceful but constructive way — A.S. and his mother witnessed the exact opposite. Their voices were quelled unnecessarily, and their bodies subjected to chemicals and violent acts at the hands of the D.C. police department, which shouldn’t have occurred.