The images from the night of June 1 in Washington, D.C. are searing. Hundreds of people, gathered near the White House to protest the police killing of George Floyd, are suddenly besieged by two low-flying D.C. National Guard helicopters. Utilizing an intimidation tactic from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the helicopters hovered just 45 feet over protestors’ heads and subjected them to the storm-force winds of their rotor wash in an effort to get them to disperse.
Now, a 23-year-old woman from Baltimore is suing the District of Columbia National Guard for $200,000 in physical and ongoing psychological damages that she says she suffered as a result of the aggressive crowd disbursement tactic. On behalf of Dzhuliya Dashtamirova, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of the District of Columbia filed an administrative claims against the National Guard under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
ACLU lawyer Michael Perloff called the move “a dangerous, unprecedented show of force” against Americans exercising First Amendment rights. “The streets of D.C. are not a war zone, and protesters are not the enemy,” Perloff said. “Our government should stop treating them that way.”
Dashtamirova, along with her roommate, had traveled from Baltimore to Washington that day to demonstrate peacefully for racial justice, the complaint said. Video and photographs taken the night of June 1 show two helicopters from the D.C. Guard hovering low over protesters, kicking up high velocity debris from the streets below. One of the helicopters, a UH-72 Lakota aircraft typically used for medical evacuations, bore red crosses, considered to be an international symbol of mercy. It was below the height of the tallest nearby buildings.
The two helicopters hovered over the protesters for a combined 10 minutes, first one and then the other, as protesters ran for cover. The maneuvers created wind speeds equivalent to a tropical storm, according to calculations by aerospace engineers.
After the helicopter flights over the protest, Dashtamirova’s claim asserts, she experienced eye irritation for several days and continues to experience mental and emotional trauma including anxiety, insomnia and intensified migraine headaches.“My eyes and skin were burning from all the debris flying everywhere,” Dashtamirova said in a statement released by the ACLU. “I couldn’t see anything. It was terrifying and felt like a warning to people who believe in racial justice that if we say things the government doesn’t like, it will use the full force of the military against us.”
The military has six months to respond to the complaint. If it denies the claim or does not respond, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit in federal court.