The American Civil Liberties Union sued the D.C. National Guard on Tuesday on behalf of Dzhuliya Dashtamirova for low-flying actions taken by a military helicopter during racial justice protests in 2020.
Dashtamirova, 25, of Baltimore, Maryland, came to Washington on June 1, 2020, to take part in racial justice protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. When protestors continued marching after a 7 p.m. curfew, the D.C. National Guard flew two helicopters, a UH-60 Blackhawk and a UH-72 Lakota, 45 feet above the heads of protestors, according to the ACLU’s court filing.
Police did not give protestors a warning before the flights took place, Dashtamirova said in the filing.
“My eyes and skin stung from debris. I couldn’t hear anything over the extremely powerful winds,” Dashtamirova said in a statement shared by the ACLU. “For weeks afterward, I had horrible migraines and lost sleep. I kept trying to figure out why the military attacked us, and I kept worrying that it would happen again.”
Low-flying helicopters, which can be used as a tactic to disperse crowds and disorient combatants in war zones, “generate storm-like winds that gust with earsplitting volume and blast debris into the enemies’ faces, creating pain and disorientation,” according to the lawsuit.
Dashtamirova is now seeking to hold the D.C. National Guard accountable in the form of $200,000 in damages, ACLU officials said in a release.
While National Guard units in other states fall under the purview of each state’s respective governor, the District of Columbia falls under the jurisdiction of the president, which includes the authority to mobilize the D.C. National Guard.
“The D.C. National Guard does not have jurisdiction over the claim at this juncture,” D.C. National Guard spokesperson 1st Sgt. Khalia Jackson told Military Times regarding the lawsuit. “The investigation was elevated for broader oversight and processing. We have reached out for a definitive status, and once received, will provide an update as appropriate.”
The 2020 murder of George Floyd incited protests against police brutality on an international scale. A 2020 Civis Analytics report found that between 15 and 26 million people in the U.S. attended a Black Lives Matter protest in the incident’s aftermath.
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.