WASHINGTON — A large crowd of protesters ignored the Washington curfew and gathered outside the White House on Tuesday, a day after U.S. Park Police, the Secret Service, the National Guard and other federal law enforcement agencies forcefully cleared the area of demonstrators to allow President Donald Trump to visit a riot-damaged church across the street.
Some protesters told NBC News that they were motivated to join the marches over the death of George Floyd because of the government’s response.
"It ignited a fire in us," Alondra Pacheco, 20, said of the spectacle Monday, when law enforcement came "at peaceful people just so he could walk across the street."
Pacheco had been out to the protests over the weekend, but another woman from Washington said she was joining the protests for the first time.
"I've been giving what money I can to groups but after what he did — deploying the military against Americans — there was just no way I was staying home. He just really came for Americans," said the woman, who asked not to be identified because she was recently furloughed because of the coronavirus and didn't want to negatively affect her employment prospects.
A large group across the street from the White House took a knee at 7 p.m. ET, when the curfew went into effect, and announced that they weren't going anywhere, chanting, "F--- your curfew." They also chanted "Vote him out" and "Who do you protect?"
More protesters appeared to be out than on Monday. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and her husband were seen in the crowd around 6:30 p.m., the same time federal forces had started using flash-bang grenades, pepper balls and physical force to clear the streets Monday.
Attorney General William Barr had said in a statement earlier in the day that more law enforcement would be on hand Tuesday.
"There will be even greater law enforcement resources and support in the region tonight. The most basic function of government is to provide security for people to live their lives and exercise their rights, and we will meet that responsibility here in the nation's capital," Barr said.
The crowd started to break up voluntarily around 7:30 p.m., with some protesters heading home and others marching toward the Capitol as a smaller contingent stayed near the White House.
Full coverage of George Floyd’s death and protests around the country
The relatively placid scene was far different from that of Monday, when the federal forces went after the peaceful protesters to force them to disperse almost a half-hour before the curfew took effect, using smoke and, according to witnesses, tear gas.
In a statement, acting Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan denied that tear gas was used to clear the crowd and said officers used smoke canisters and pepper balls only after protesters tried to grab their weapons and threw projectiles at them. Video of the scene didn't show protesters grabbing at weapons, although some started throwing projectiles after officers began shooting flash-bang grenades at them.
Reporters, protesters and bystanders who were at the scene — including a priest — said tear gas was used.
Lauren Egan reported from Washington. Dareh Gregorian reported from New York.