The roving, marathon demonstration that crisscrossed the city for hours arrived at the U.S. Capitol just before the 11 p.m. curfew. More than 1,000 energetic demonstrators — diverse and mostly young — gathered around the 44-foot-high white marble Peace Monument and cheered one speaker after another.
“We’re gonna march through these damn streets,” the speaker said, signaling a long night to come. “We’re going to be peaceful. We ain’t going to bring no drama.”
Dozens of protesters climbed atop the monument.
“Anybody got a megaphone?” Romulo Richardson asked.
“We have the people’s microphone,” a woman in the middle of the crowd replied, saying she would repeat his message so those in the back could hear.
“I need everybody to be as quiet as possible, because this is important,” said Richardson, 37, who is black. “They charged the four officers in George Floyd’s murder tonight.”
Protesters in the peaceful crowd, which had knelt several times en route to the Capitol from near the White House, erupted into cheers.
“Y’all made that happen,” said Richardson, of Northwest Washington. “Y’all made them believe us. There is strength in numbers … you’ve got to move as a unit.”
He then urged everyone to turn to their neighbors and exchange social media information, saying they couldn’t make change unless they united.
As the crowd thinned at Lafayette Square near the White House, some officers on the front line appeared to relax. An officer in a helmet and a shoulder patch that read “Special Forces” popped his head out from the second row and struck up a conversation with Joshua Rosen, 27, who was wearing a Jewish Yamuka and Tallit. Eventually, he asked: “Do you think we could see a prayer?”
Rosen nodded, then tried to remember the songs he had learned in his synagogue in Greenbelt, Md. He started with “Shalom Rav,” then sang “Lo Yisa Goy.” He paused when he couldn’t remember the exact line and another member of the crowd chimed in.
The Guardsman watched, his smile widening. “Awesome, awesome,” he said. “Thank you so much for that.”
Not far away, rumors and fear spread that group antifa had arrived. Arianna Evans, 22, spent much of her evening policing the front of the line, asking protesters who wanted to stand chest to chest with the National Guard to step back.
She had thought Wednesday night was the best yet — “We didn’t get shot, so that’s cool,” — but at 10:25 p.m., she heard from multiple people in the crowd that antifa had arrived at the protest.
Now she used her megaphone for a different message: “I’m about to go home because I like my life. antifa is here and they are not … playing.”
All around, heads turned toward her, even in the line of National Guard.
“If you want to be safe,” Evans told a protester, “go home right now.”
There was no way to determine whether antifa was arriving, but no sign that the group was in the area of protests.