A group of hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of downtown Washington on Monday afternoon, chanting “Black Lives Matter!” and slogans denouncing President Trump as they approached his hotel at 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
D.C. police officers on bicycles raced to the scene and positioned themselves in front of the Trump International Hotel. Protesters pressed up against a barrier, knelt down and yelled to police: “Kneel with us! Kneel with us!”
A female African American officer who identified herself only as Officer Brown looked straight at the protesters, gripping her bicycle. When she took a knee, the crowd erupted in cheers.
Attention then turned to the more than a dozen other officers. “Officer, do you agree with us?” asked Leo West, a 20 year old Alma College (Michigan) student from Takoma Park wearing a Black Lives Matter facemask.
Suddenly the officer, an African American whose uniform gave his name as P.D. Harris, briefly sank to his knee. “You’re a good man, Officer,” West shouted. “All of you can do it. Be like Officer Harris.”
Somehow, they seemed to listen. Half a dozen more officers sank to their knee as well.
But by now, Officer Harris was on his feet. “Do it again,” urged Edward Dana, a 24 year old University of DC student and employee of the department of disability services. When Harris refused, Dana became upset.
Suddenly another protester he’d met just a few hours earlier intervened. “Let’s be cool,” said Tony Norris, A 22-year-old from Waldorf, Md., who worked in a music store until the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“This man still has a family to get back to,” said Norris, who is African American. “He’ll take a knee when he needs to.” Harris gave a fist bump to a passing protester, and Dana left with the rest of the crowd.
But the interaction left West, who is white, frustrated. “He took a knee for a second, but then he stood back up,” he said. “They will take a knee with us but as soon as s--- hits the fan, they always stand back up.”
Officer Harris declined to give his full name or to comment. “I think you understand,” he said, still standing in front of the Trump Hotel.
Perched on top of an electrical box, 26-year-old Daniel Smith caught it all on his phone. The D.C. native came after his work at a spice factory and wanted to broadcast what he saw on Facebook.
“I don’t know — I think it’s a kind of conflict resolution,” he said about the officers after jumping off the box. “It’s a strategy.”
Earlier Monday, District Police Chief Peter Newsham was asked about officers who knelt during protests, as at least one did Sunday night at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
“There is nobody on this police department that I know that isn’t personally impacted by what we saw in Minneapolis with the death of George Floyd,” Newsham said. “Our police officers, just like everyone else, are human beings. But also we have a job to do. We have to ensure that the people who are set on destroying our city are held accountable for that, so we have to have that balance.
“The one side of me is very happy that people understand how we feel about this issue and how we are appalled by this issue. On the same token, we are very, very disturbed to be here in this city and to see some people tearing up our city. As the mayor mentioned, that is not advancing the cause, that is not a respectful way to treat the memory of a person who unnecessarily lost his life in this country.”
This post has been updated.