Thousands of demonstrators marched through Ward 2 Saturday in the second day of protests over recent episodes of police violence and brutality.
Crowds gathered outside Lafayette Square Park – barricaded following tense protests the day before – near the White House Saturday afternoon chanting and graffitiing slogans like “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe.” Protesters commemorated the police killings of black Americans Breonna Taylor, shot in March by a Louisville Metro Police Department officer serving a “no-knock warrant,” and George Floyd, who died Monday after Minneapolis Police Department officers knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Demonstrators marched from the White House up 15th Street NW and westward on L Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW to Georgetown and back holding signs and calling out to draw attention to police brutality and the fates of Taylor, Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man fatally shot by two white men in Georgia while jogging. Cars driving by and blocked by the march honked in solidarity with the protesters.
On H Street NW across Lafayette Square, hundreds of protesters assembled in front of police barricades, railing against police unions and shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot.” A handful of demonstrators threw water bottles over the barricades, which were met with tear gas and pepper spray from the police.
As protesters moved up 15th Street NW at about 8:30 p.m., the demonstration grew more violent. One protester smashed a window at a T-Mobile store, leading a white diner at the Bobby Van’s restaurant next door to throw a chair at the marchers.
Two black protesters moved to protect the white man, who took refuge inside the restaurant, urging the crowd to stay nonviolent and continue on the protest route. About 15 minutes later, a group of protesters blocked a police vehicle from moving up Vermont Avenue and banged on its hood until a group of uniformed police officers joined and escorted the vehicle forward.
Throughout the protests, police in formation to cordon off city blocks did not engage with individuals. But a few officers caught in the middle of the protest did answer questions from the demonstrators about police violence and racism – one white officer was asked by a group of black protesters why they were more scared of the police than gangs, and he replied that the media had them “disillusioned” and that “nothing will get resolved” by protest.
As protesters returned from a march through Georgetown around 10 p.m., they briefly sat and blocked traffic in Washington Circle, opposite the Milken Institute School of Public Health building, chanting “Silence is violence.” GW’s campus remained largely untouched by protests, even as small groups of people moved up Pennsylvania Avenue smashing storefronts after midnight.
Protesters now seated in Washington Circle chanting “Silence is violence.” In the background: Milken Institute School of Public Health, GW Hospital pic.twitter.com/Ztrq4oWMJj
— Parth Kotak (@parthhkotak) May 31, 2020
Tensions between police and protesters escalated again as the demonstration moved back toward the White House. At about 10:30 p.m., police barricading a block of K Street NW faced off against protesters on 17th Street NW, exchanging water bottles lobbed overhead for stun grenades.
*Police have tossed flash bang grenades at the protesters pic.twitter.com/UAUv304X9C
— Parth Kotak (@parthhkotak) May 31, 2020
Shortly afterward, protesters lit a vehicle on fire at the intersections of 16th and I streets NW, followed by a second car at 11 p.m. at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue NW and 17th and I streets NW. Police responded to those fires, broken windows and firecrackers with tear gas and stun grenades.
Connecticut Ave. and I St. NW pic.twitter.com/UoTfjCNGbf
— Parth Kotak (@parthhkotak) May 31, 2020
At about midnight, the majority of the protesters stayed around the White House to demonstrate, but a handful walked along H Street NW toward campus to smash storefronts. Casualties of the protest included tea shop Teaism, Panera Bread, law firm WilmerHale and North Italia.
Demonstrators are moving portable toilets from a nearby construction site into the intersection of 17th and H streets NW, attempting to block police from moving through. pic.twitter.com/VnOCefWJDM
— Zach Schonfeld (@ZachASchonfeld) May 31, 2020
One protester said she decided to join the demonstrations to make clear that incidents of police violence like those over the past week cannot and should not continue.
“We feel that enough is enough,” she said. “If we don’t come and show out in big numbers, then people aren’t going to pay attention. They’re not going to do what needs to be done.”
Another protester, a District resident and teacher, said she stayed home Friday night but was drawn to join the demonstrations following President Donald Trump’s tweet earlier in the day announcing “MAGA NIGHT” at the White House Saturday evening.
“He intended to get people who support him to come out here tonight,” she said. “What he got was people saying ‘enough is enough.’ We want an America that is inclusive, we want an America that is a diverse melting pot as it was intended to be and we want an America that does not have a brutalizing force against people that look like me.”
She added that she continually worries about her own safety when she leaves her home and will worry even more for her daughter’s well-being when she leaves home for college next year.
“Even when it’s televised or even when it’s recorded you can still be killed,” she said. “Something has to be done.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference Sunday that she recognizes the protesters’ “outrage” following the recent episodes of police violence but urged people not to raze property.
“We certainly empathize that the killing of George Floyd wasn’t the first, and people are expressing outrage and demanding action,” she said. “We also recognize that we are proud of our city, and we do not want our city to be destroyed.”
Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham said at the press conference that MPD arrested 17 individuals Saturday night – including eight who reside in or had ties to the District, five residents of Virginia and four without known fixed addresses. Officers charged 14 individuals with rioting, two individuals with burglary and one individual with simple assault, he said.
Newsham asked businesses in the area to review video surveillance to assist authorities in identifying demonstrators who hurt people or those that destroyed property.
He added that 29 MPD vehicles were damaged or spray painted. Eleven officers sustained non-life-threatening injuries, including one officer who is undergoing surgery for a compound leg fracture Sunday, he said.
GW’s Black Student Union joined the BSUs of American, Catholic and Georgetown universities this week in calling on Bowser and Newsham to introduce de-escalation and unconscious bias training and curb youth arrests. Newsham said he shared the statement with the entire police force Friday and is committed to building a “trusting and effective” partnership between police and students in D.C.
The U.S. Secret Service said in a statement Sunday that 11 agents were transported to a local hospital for non-life threatening injuries, and more than 60 agents were injured between Friday night and Sunday morning, according to the statement.
Multiple Secret Service, U.S. Park Police and MPD vehicles were seen parked outside The GW Hospital – the closest hospital to the demonstrations – at 12:45 a.m.
The Secret Service said they arrested one individual near 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue. Demonstrators vandalized six Secret Service vehicles and attempted to knock over security barriers, according to the statement.
“No individuals crossed the White House fence and no Secret Service protectees were ever in any danger,” the statement reads. “The Secret Service respects the right to assemble, and we ask that individuals do so peacefully for the safety of all.”
Editor’s note: Out of concern for the safety of protesters, The Hatchet chose not to name those who participated in demonstrations responding to George Floyd’s death.