WASHINGTON — Demonstrators clashed with police in the nation's capital for a third consecutive night on Sunday, as multiple layers of law enforcement attempted to enforce a citywide curfew to stifle heated protests over the death of George Floyd.
Multiple fires broke out near Lafayette Park, just steps from the White House with fire trucks rushing to the scene. Police became more aggressive in using tear gas and flash bangs to disperse the crowd as the 11 p.m. curfew drew closer. Loud noises were followed by screams and stampedes of protesters running to safety.
The anger of some demonstrators was palpable as they screamed obscenities at police who had formed a line, wearing shields and standing between protesters and the White House.
Some fled and escalated violence in the nearby streets. The windows of the AFL-CIO headquarters were smashed in. One man used a baseball bat to smash in the windows of cars.
Many protesters voiced their disapproval of the violent instigators, fearing that they would hijack the cause of combating police violence and achieving justice for Floyd.
Many businesses downtown had boarded up doors and windows in the area in anticipation of a night of looting.
D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser's curfew was set to last through 6 a.m. Monday. The mayor had said as recently as Sunday afternoon that she was not planning on issuing a curfew. She also activated the Washington, D.C., National Guard to support the city’s Metropolitan Police Department.
U.S Marshals Service personnel and Drug Enforcement Administration agents were also deployed to the streets of Washington to assist police with security, Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec told NBC News — an extraordinary step for basic crowd control.
The standoff between law enforcement and protesters grew increasingly heated as the curfew neared. Police fenced off protesters and formed a line, donning shields and facing the crowd as some demonstrators threw empty water bottles in their direction. Others were screaming obscenities at them. Officers used tear gas, flash bangs and fireworks to move protesters away just feet from the White House.
Law enforcement blocked off streets in the areas surrounding the White House, as sign-waving demonstrators marched and chanted “no justice, no peace!”
A peaceful crowd gathered in front of the White House as the sun set.
“It's really overwhelming as a black American — especially a black female that has black brothers, a black dad. It’s encouraging to see so much support right now,” said Melita Bell, 30, who works for a nonprofit in the D.C. area.
Bell put off seeing the Floyd video because she knew it would be harrowing. And it was.
“It’s just hard to see something like that and picture — that could have been my dad, that could have been my brother, that could have been my uncle,” she said. “Silence is violence. If you're not showing up and making your voice heard you’re not supporting the black community.”
Another black woman, walking past Bell, waved a big green sign that read “Legalize Being BLACK.”
The crowd included good Samaritans — one woman was offering free hand sanitizer to protesters braving the coronavirus pandemic, while a man was picking up trash to keep the streets clean.
Moments before 8:30 p.m., the crowd began chanting “Black lives matter!” followed by “F--- Trump!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” and “No justice, no peace!”
The protests were punctuated by moments of panic as crowds screamed and ran after being spooked by police.
One man who bolted said police threw a canister of what some feared was tear gas.
“I heard screaming and ran,” he said.
As crowds grew after sundown, the Secret Service issued a warning on Twitter: “In an effort to ensure public safety, pedestrians and motorists are encouraged to avoid streets and parks near the White House complex.”
The crowd skewed younger but was diverse — full of black and white protesters as well as some Latino and Asian Americans.
“Police have been a brutal oppressive force in this country since its inception,” said Gregory Kleinburd, a 27 year old white man, who is unemployed due to COVID-19.
“I just want to help. I don’t think any half-measures or anything short of sweeping reforms will actually address this issue,” Kleinburd said, proposing dramatic changes such as requiring officers who kill someone to leave the force.
At the White House a day earlier, police used pepper spray, tear gas and what appeared to be rubber bullets on protesters, seeking to push them back. Protesters tossed objects like bottles toward the police. Some pulled bricks out of a sidewalk near the park and began throwing them toward police.
The Washington, D.C. protests came amid nationwide demonstrations over the killing of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Derek Chauvin, the since-fired officer who detained Floyd, a black man, was arrested and charged Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin was seen on videotape holding his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as he begged for mercy.
Three other officers were also involved in Floyd's detainment.