I’d been told that Martin Gugino didn’t like to talk about himself, and that turned out to be the case. “The thing I’m more concerned about is H Street in Washington,” the white-haired protester told me in a telephone call after I’d inquired about his health.
Gugino became known around the world when Buffalo police officers, moving forward to clear a public square of protesters who lingered as a June 4 curfew took effect, pushed him to the ground and walked past as he lay bleeding from his ear. The seventy-five-year-old told me that he’d spent the month of June hospitalized, and then another month undergoing three two-hour rehabilitation sessions a week. He reports he still feels unsteady on his feet. “It’s not the same,” he said, adding, “I’m more interested in walking into a courtroom. That’s all I need.”
Two police officers are charged with felony assault in connection with his injuries, and a civil suit is in the works. Gugino said he’d approached the police to tell them his view that the First Amendment takes precedence over the city’s curfew. He wound up flat on his back.
Something like that had occurred on H Street three days earlier, on a much larger scale. Using federal police, Bureau of Prisons riot teams, and National Guard backup, as well as exploding chemical irritants, rubber bullets, and gas canisters, federal officials chased two thousand demonstrators out of Lafayette Square across the street from the White House. That cleared the path for President Donald Trump to be driven directly from a Rose Garden announcement of his nationwide crackdown on violent protests to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he held up a Bible in front of news cameras.
There is a mostly semantic debate about whether the protesters were forced out of the park because U.S. Park Police wanted to make way for a security fence, or to quell a lawful demonstration so the president could get his photo op. But both can be true. The Trump administration cites the acting chief of the Park Police, Gregory Monahan, who told a congressional committee, “There is 100 percent zero correlation between our operation and the president’s visit to the church.” Except that Trump’s trip to St. John’s minutes after the protesters were routed was exquisitely timed to illustrate the political message Trump had just pronounced in the Rose Garden, whether or not Chief Monahan knew at that moment how his force was being used.