Washington DC Police Chief Peter Newsham said the recent attacks on protesters at the Turkish Embassy in the national capital were “brutal.” At the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Department, Newsham said on Wednesday, “Yesterday afternoon we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protesters at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in the 1600 block of 23rd St. NW.” Of the attack that occurred near Sheridan Circle, Newsham said, “That’s something we will not tolerate here in Washington, D.C. This is a city where people should be allowed to come and peacefully protest.”
While promising that the attackers will be held accountable, Newsham acknowledged that there could be a “diplomatic immunity issue” to consider. “We are going to pursue anything that is within our legal powers to hold the folks that were responsible for their actions.” So far, two men have been arrested. A New York man was charged with aggravated assault, while a man from nearby Fairfax, Virginia, was charged with assault on a police officer. Eleven persons were injured, one seriously.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that “violence is never an appropriate response to free speech.” She added, “We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms.” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency claimed that Erdogan’s bodyguards dispersed demonstrators because “police did not heed Turkish demands to intervene.”
The mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bower (D), said that “the violent attack on a peaceful demonstration” violates “our rights as Americans.”
Video emerged on social media in the aftermath of the attack that showed men in black suits kicking demonstrators who protested Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies. The Turkish leader met with President Donald Trump on the same day.
The statement by Metro Police read, “The actions seen outside the Turkish Embassy yesterday in Washington, D.C. stand in contrast to the First Amendment rights and principles we work tirelessly to protect each and every day.” It read furthermore, “The Metropolitan Police Department made two arrests following yesterday’s incidents and we have every intention to pursue charges against the other individuals involved. We will continue to work with our partners at the United States State Department and United States Secret Service to identify and hold all subjects accountable for their involvement in the altercation.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) tweeted on Wednesday, “President Erdogan, you would do well to remember that this country is built on free speech, free religion, free press, & freedom to protest.” Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told MSNBC that the incident was “outrageous.” Leahy told Andrea Mitchell, "We should say very strongly that is not the way we do things in America.”
The guards will probably not suffer any consequences for their actions, said retired New York City cop, Professor Joseph Giacalone of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Those guarding foreign dignataries are afforded diplomatic immunity in much the same way as are Secret Service officers protecting the President of the United States. even if the injured parties believe their rights have been infringed, they have no recourse under international law. Speaking to NBC News, Giacalone said, "It's going nowhere," and added, "This is not American police. There's no Civilian Complaint Review Board. [The] can cry or scream, but the guards are covered."
According to Giacalone, embassy compounds are not under the jurisdiction of the United States. "Americans need to understand that these guys are used to dealing with radicals in their own countries and getting away with it," Giacalone said. "They don't play."
Many of the protesters were pro-Turkey demonstrators. However, violence erupted when a man was reportedly seen carrying the flag of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which is an organization linked to a group that the United States wants to arm in Syria despite Turkey's objections. Turkey considers them to be an offshoot of the terrorist organization the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey has long struggled to control Kurdish nationalists, many of whom have received support from Russia.