Rev. Gini Gerbasi, an Episcopal priest in D.C., said that federal police used tear gas to expel her and other people from St. John’s Episcopal Church property to make way for President Donald Trump’s photo-op staged there on Monday evening.
“They turned holy ground into a battleground,” Gerbasi told Religion News Service.
The priest, who said she was wearing her clerical clothing at the time, described how the police had breached church grounds and began spraying tear gas, effectively chasing out her seminarian, herself and others on the church patio from the premises.
“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,” Gerbasi said.
The priest told Religion News that she was unaware of the reason for the violent expulsion until after the President began the photo-op, during which he held up a Bible without bothering to enter the church itself.
“That’s what it was for: to clear that patio so that man could stand in front of that building with a Bible,” she said.
Despite the fact that 7 p.m. ET curfew had not yet begun, the police had deployed tear gas and flash bangs to clear away protesters holding a peaceful demonstration against police brutality in the area in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Prior to his arrival at the site, the President had given a speech ostensibly to address the killing of Floyd at the hands of a white police officer, but it was largely focused on threatening protesters with military action instead.
He then headed over to the church unannounced, reportedly because he was upset by news coverage of him hiding away in the White House over the weekend and wanted to be seen outside.
The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington who oversees St. John’s, slammed Trump for using the church “as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything our churches stand for.”