The scene outside the Capitol was relaxed, with music and a mixed-race crowd applauding speeches about channeling the energy from the protests into positive change for African American neighborhoods.
No one chanted. One speaker talked about the unsolved murders in Southeast Washington and, to him, the city’s seeming indifference about them.
“There are black boys and black girls still missing,” the speaker, who is African American, said to the crowd, some who held aloft “Black Lives Matter” or “I can’t breathe” signs.
“It’s good to stand here for George Floyd, but stand out here for Ray-Ray, too,” he said, adding that some of those murders were due to black-on-black violence. “Black people; check your people in the neighborhood.”
Aerica Shimizu, 32, interrupted that speech, arguing that that viewpoint is shallow.
“The issue is poverty, the issue is access to resources, the issue is equal protection” under the law, said Shimizu, drawing a round of cheers.
“To blame black people is a way to continue their oppression and discrimination,” Shimuzu, who lives in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood, later said. “I support black entrepreneurs.”
Ben Bullock nodded in agreement, being one such businessman. He was selling “I can’t breathe” face masks for $15, and getting plenty of customers. Bullock, who also lives in Southeast Washington, was part of the crowd outside the White House on Monday who had been gassed and forced to move to clear the way for President Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Church.
“The violence from the past few days was painful to see,” said Bullock, a retired corrections officer. “Until we hit the powers that be financially, that will get their attention. We need to boycott their businesses, and support our own businesses.”
With that, he turned to his next customer.
Crystina Darden, 30, hadn’t been to any protests this week.
“I’m still really concerned about the pandemic spread,” she said, keeping a blue mask on her face and staying at the outer edge of the crowd of hundreds outside the east front of the Capitol. She had been staying inside as much as possible for weeks so that she didn’t put herself or her mom at home in Southeast Washington at any more risk.
But a friend had told her there was a sit-in at the Capitol, just a couple of blocks from her job at a tax-compliance consulting firm that works with nonprofits and political campaigns, and she had to pass by anyway. Once there, she was impressed by how careful people were being, with many keeping masks on despite the heat and spacing themselves apart, trying to keep the protest calm, keep everyone safe.
“I’m happy that people are finally starting to speak out like this,” Darden said, adjusting the scarf tied over her long braids. “This sustained protesting is great. It’s not just George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery — that’s just the tip of the iceberg."
The U.S. government abandoned everyone in the covid-19 pandemic, she said, and now they’re pushing to open up the states too soon. “I’m angry at the deaths of black people,” she said. “I’m also really angry about my friends working at Trader Joe’s and nursing homes” having to put themselves at risk. “I’m furious for my friends that have gotten furloughed, and just — left to the wolves.”
After living in Washington her whole life, she can’t afford rent in the city, she said, so she lives in New Carrollton and commutes. “All of our anger is just bubbling up.”
But everyone, she said, “everyone, no matter what color they are, want to know what to do to help.” She suggested a mix of donations to bail funds, mutual-aid funds, and racial-justice organizers.
“If we keep this up,” she said, “I don’t think the government can ignore us.”