With the White House now resembling a fortress, authorities in the nation’s capital braced Saturday for what protesters promised would be the largest demonstrations yet to condemn police brutality and the killing of George Floyd.
Protests were scheduled to take place in at least four spots throughout central Washington, D.C., including Lafayette Square in front of the White House, which is now surrounded by high fences and concrete barriers. More rallies were taking place in D.C.’s Maryland and Virginia suburbs, while demonstrations were also resuming for the ninth consecutive day across the country.
Floyd was an unarmed black Minneapolis man who died May 25 in custody after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes despite Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe. The four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired and now face charges in Floyd’s death.
Miles of streets leading to the White House and surrounding areas were either closed or restricted to pedestrian-only traffic. People began gathering near the White House on Saturday well before noon.
On Friday, district employees painted gigantic, neon-yellow letters to spell out “Black Lives Matter” over two city blocks facing the façade of the White House. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the gesture was meant to send a message of support to the demonstrators.
It was also clearly a message to President Trump, who immediately condemned the mayor on Twitter, calling her “incompetent.” She ignored his insults but asked governors who had sent National Guard troops to Washington, D.C., to withdraw them, saying they were unnecessary and “encroached on the rights” of city residents.
Bowser also officially named a section of 16th Street in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and overnight activated light projections onto buildings facing the White House with the same message.
“It has been a long time coming, but I know. I know — change will come,” Bowser said on Twitter.
Few American cities have endorsed the demonstrations as enthusiastically and officially as the District of Columbia. The mayor has ordered what she calls “extraordinary” law enforcement to stand down, and on Friday night as tropics-worthy rainstorms drenched activists, the police or troop presence appeared diminished from previous nights.
Unlike the normally well-orchestrated marches and rallies that normally take place in Washington, the anti-racism wave seems to be a grass-roots effort with no single organizer in charge.
“There is a lot of anger; there is a lot of distrust in police,” Bowser told reporters. “People want to be heard.”
D.C. police welcomed the demonstrations.
“The Metropolitan Police Department welcomes first amendment demonstrations in our city & will do everything we can to facilitate peaceful protestors and ensure their safety,” the agency said.
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