Police on Monday violently removed protestors in Washington DC so that President Donald Trump could walk towards St John’s church to have a photoshoot in front of the building. Trump wrote on Twitter: "Washington, DC, was the safest place on earth last night!"
Clergymen from the church were among peaceful protesters who were teargassed and shot with rubber bullets by the police.
The episcopal clergy criticised the presidents claims as the grounds surrounding the sacred building were consumed by chaos.
Reverend Gini Gerbasi said: “They turned holy ground into a battleground.”
Rev Gerbasi is the rector of nearby Saint John’s Episcopal church in the Georgetown area of Washington.
Trump brags that Washington is ‘safest place’ after police teargas protestors
The church is a sister of St John’s Lafayette which is dubbed the Church of the Presidents because US leaders since James Madison has attended services there.
Trump threatened to deploy the military to control protesters if state governors failed to appease the clashes.
Riot police was violently sweeping out peaceful protestors outside the church as Trump made his statement.
“I was suddenly coughing from the teargas,” Rev Gerbasi told the Religious News Service website.
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Protestors gather around the front of one of the St John's Episcopal Church buildings
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington had organised for Rev Gervasi and 20 other priests as well as a group of laypeople to attend the demonstration.
The clergymen aimed to act as a “peaceful presence in support of protesters.”
They delivered water and snacks to other protestors, as well as hand sanitiser to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
As the churchmen were getting ready to leave ahead of the new 7pm curfew implemented in Washington began, the police advanced towards the protestors to move them away from the church.
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Riot police was violently sweeping out peaceful protestors outside the church as Trump made his statement
“We heard those explosions and people would drop to the ground because you weren’t sure what it was,” Rev Gerbasi said.
She described how protestors were crying with pain due to being hit by rounds fired by the police.
Rev Glenna Huber, rector of the Church of the Epiphany, ran away from the chaotic situation and alerted clergy at the Church of the Presidents of what was happening.
Rev Gerbasi said she was within the church’s perimeter as police arrived.
“I’m there in my little pink sweater, in my collar, my grey hair up in a ponytail, my reading glasses on, and my seminarian who was with me – she got teargas in her eyes,” she said.
She added: “The police in their riot gear with their black shields and the whole bit start pushing on to the patio of St John’s Lafayette Square.”
Protestors were violently removed by police in Washington DC
Once Rev Gerbasi and other churchmen managed to escape they saw on the internet pictures of Trump walking the church’s grounds they had just been forcefully removed from.
“That’s what it was for, to clear that patio so that man could stand in front of that building with a Bible,” said Rev Gerbasi.
The White House’s Twitter account later shared footage of Trump walking towards the church and posing in front of it while holding a Holy Bible up.
The Right Rev Mariann Budde, bishop of Washington from St John’s Lafayette, which is known for its liberal bent, also expressed her dismay.
She told ABC: “This is an excruciating moment and a crisis moment in our country, where we need healing and reconciliation and we need justice.”
The Right Rev Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said Trump was using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”