Thousands of demonstrators gathered in force in Washington on Tuesday evening, showing up in greater numbers than the day before.
An hour before a 7 p.m. curfew, the crowd swelled massively along the northern edge of Lafayette Square, jamming H Street NW and surrounding streets for a few blocks — roughly two or three times the number of protesters the night before. Law enforcement stood three deep behind a fence, face shields down.
With the crowds came more aid stations, with more people handing out water and supplies to demonstrators.
Onlookers wheeled bicycles through the crowd, which was now spilling onto 16th Street NW and onto the steps of St. John’s Episcopal Church, where a fire was set in the basement Sunday night. The chants were growing louder and more unified, but beneath them, demonstrators worried to each other about another show of force to clear them from H Street.
As curfew inched closer, groups of protesters began huddling in groups of two and three to discuss contingency plans if officers began firing, as happened around this time on Monday. They reminded themselves of where they parked and checked bags for extra masks. They discussed what to do for gas burns and lamented their lack of real gas masks. One woman said she felt lucky she’d packed a sleeping bag, in case things went extremely poorly.
Swim goggles and lab goggles hung loose on the necks of other protesters who said they wanted to be prepared in case pepper bullets and other irritants started to fly around curfew.
Many had attended previous days’ protests, but several said they were motivated to come out after watching the attack on peaceful protesters Monday. They just wanted to be prepared.
Dagoberto Acevedo, 24, of Fairfax, said he was here on Monday night when the police began to push protesters away from the park. During a skirmish, as officers rushed forward and protesters ran, Acevedo tripped. A federal police officer in riot gear raised his baton, he said. And a boy he didn’t know — just 14, he later learned — threw his body between them.
“After that,” Acevedo said, “I’ll be out here every day trying to help protect people.”
As the curfew neared, the protest remained peaceful. No bottles tossed or rocks thrown.
At 6:45 p.m., dozens of protesters began heading west on H Street, away from the crowd. But thousands more remained in place. Autumn Sacred, a 29-year-old black woman with a “dump Trump” pin on her backpack, climbed onto the window sill of Off the Record, the restaurant at the Hay-Adams. At 6:55 p.m., her friends yelled at her, “get down now! It’s starting!” The group put on safety goggles.
“I’ve been playing video games since I was 8 years old,” she told them, hopping down. “I am ready for this.”
At 6:59 p.m., the demonstrators started chanting, cheering and clapping — but not moving. There was no shoving, no jostling.
Seven minutes past curfew, a woman with a megaphone yelled instructions to the crowd.
“If they start gassing you, do not run!,” she said. “I promise your eyes will stop burning eventually.”
The longer police waited to advance, the more demonstrators seemed to relax, their mood turning celebratory.
A small black boy in a Batman hat danced danced to the chant of “This Is what democracy looks like.”
Beside him, a blonde woman was pleading with her husband. “Let’s stay till 7:30,” she asked. “Ten more minutes.” He shook his head and took her arm, leading her away.