WASHINGTON — Hundreds of protesters took a knee in front of a line of law enforcement officers and National Guard in crowd control gear Wednesday evening after the perimeter around the White House was pushed farther away.
A diverse group of protesters waved signs reading “Black lives matter” and “Dismantle white supremacy.”
When they stood up they began chanting “George Floyd!” and “No justice, no peace!”
The mood was calm and peaceful, unlike some previous nights, as protesters handed out water and played music through a boombox.
The protesters were better organized than they had been as a black woman with a loudspeaker, standing just in front of the police, led the crowd in chants and spoke on their behalf.
“We are tired of being called domestic terrorists when the only domestic terrorists are the ones that support this president!” she said to applause.
“What brings me out here is to be a part of trying to make history,” said Katrekka Pough, a 32-year-old financial analyst. “I’d like to see the justice system actually mean justice no matter your race.”
If downtown felt like a war zone earlier in the week, the mood was more like Coachella two hours before curfew Wednesday. Uplifting music played to buoy the crowd and protesters joined in singing. Within the hour the music stopped and they returned to chanting protest slogans.
Many of the protesters supported reforms pushed by apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to outlaw choke holds, end the transfer of military gear to local police departments, and set up national best practices in policing. And while they are angry about President Donald Trump’s tactics, they want to see more from Biden.
“It’s bigger than just that. It’s not just about criminal justice,” Pough said. “It’s the injustices that black people face by just being black — health care, career.”
“It’ll make a little improvement but that’s not enough,” Kennedy Wright, a student in Washington, said of Biden’s police changes: “We need justice. Equality.”
John Pope, 28, who works at a nonprofit in Washington, said he wants to see civilian review boards of policing and for local governments to negotiate with police unions to simplify the process of firing bad officers.
He said he wasn’t initially planning to protest but that Trump’s move Monday to harshly disperse protesters to appear in front of a church.
“It took me a while to get out and then that really put it over the edge for me,” Pope said. “Going after peaceful protesters for no reason.”
Many white Americans turned out to express racial solidarity, sporting signs reading, "My life is not worth more than black lives," among others.
Matthew Jordan, 30, who held a sign that read “WHITE SILENCE IS VIOLENCE” in red letters, said, "We need to deal with the original sin of our country, which is racism.”
“There's not going to be peace in the streets. You’re going to have people showing up every single day until there's justice,” he said.
Jordan said Trump’s threats to send in the military has “made people even more outraged.”
“It’s as if he wants to provoke more of a response,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser pushed back the curfew after a relatively peaceful night Tuesday as unrest persists in the nation's capital and other major cities in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
Peter Newsham, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, said arrests totaled 19 on Saturday, 92 on Sunday, 288 on Monday and 19 on Tuesday while more than 5,000 protested peacefully.
Law enforcement expanded the perimeter around the White House on Tuesday and the clashes were less tense than previous days when police used aggressive tactics like flash bangs and tear gas to disperse protesters.
The curfew would be in effect from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning, Bowser said, a change from the previous two days when the curfew began at 7 p.m.
Newsham said the curfew "gives the police the ability to stop the violence." His remarks come after protests in recent days were exploited by rioters who broke into businesses downtown, smashed car windows and started fires near the White House.
"The arrests throughout the city last night were generally individual arrests of people who were resistant to abiding by the curfew," he said.
"We are examining every legal question about the president's authority to send troops, even National Guard, to the District of Columbia," she said.
As protests continue across the country, they show no signs of stopping in Washington as city residents witness a major police presence in the area around the White House and major monuments like the Lincoln Memorial.