Thousands of demonstrators streamed into the nation’s capital on Saturday, in the largest local protests so far over police brutality and racial oppression in the United States. On a hot and humid day, people carrying protest signs marched, many with their children, toward the area around the besieged White House, where authorities used tan military Humvees and dump trucks to cordon off large sections to vehicle traffic.
•The ninth day of massive protests in the District saw numerous demonstrations across the city — including along the U Street corridor, the Lincoln Memorial, Freedom Plaza and Capitol Hill — over the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and the Trump administration’s militant approach to the unrest that has gripped cities across the country.
• Some demonstrators said they noticed a shift in the atmosphere at the protests as music played and people posed for selfies. “It’s not a carnival,” a Bowie State University student said to other protesters.
Crowd dwindles early Sunday on Black Lives Matter Plaza
As the clock struck midnight, a few hundred people were still standing around Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, where the traffic lights endlessly blinked red.
The air was thick with cigarette and marijuana smoke. By this late hour, everything seemed a bit tired, a bit twisted, even the “Demand Police Accountability” projection on St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had slipped and was now hard to read.
A pair of young men playfully shadowboxed in the middle of the intersection as a man puffed on a joint nearby. Music still blared, but more quietly than earlier in the day, when a go-go band had thousands clapping and swaying.
On the south side of St. John’s, hip-hop thumped as a few dozen young people danced amid strobe lights. The music cut out so that a protester could praise those who had come out “every motherf---ing day.”
The crowd of about 50 cheered.
There was no sign of police, save a flicker of red and blue in the distance.
Black Lives Matter paints ‘Defund the police’ on 16th Street
About a dozen Black Lives Matter organizers are painting “Defund the Police” on 16th Street in Washington, a block from where Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had “Black Lives Matter” painted in giant letters leading up to Lafayette Square.
“It’s Black Lives Matter D.C.,” said an organizer who declined to give her name. “That’s all. That’s it.”
The painters also painted over the stars in the D.C. logo which had been painted next to the “Black Lives Matter” slogan. The effect is that the D.C. symbol now looks like an equals sign, coopting the mayor’s message so it now reads “Black Lives Matter = Defund the Police.”
“Momma, momma, can’t you see. What police have done to me,” sang Makia Green, a core organizer for Black Lives Matter in D.C. “They locked us up and shoot us dead. Ain’t no justice in this town. Ain’t no justice in this town.”
She said the display was “a direct response” to Bowser’s mural.
“This is ours. This is all ours. This city is ours,” one organizer shouted. “These streets? Ours.”
Then a large group began chanting, “Black lives matter!”
Candace R., who wanted to be identified only by her first name, was standing just behind the yellow tape when the finishing touches were being put on the new painting.
“Defund … the … police,” she read out loud. “That’s good, that’s necessary.”
“People died, and the mayor and the president are arguing about how to police the city,” she added. “It’s missing the point.”
An African American female organizer strolled around in the middle of the circle, wielding a loudspeaker. “Earlier this week, they had tear gas, they had riot gear … and now,” she said as she looked up at the crowd smiling, “look, it’s just us, family.”
Candace nodded. “The police have been militarized over years,” she said, “that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.”
This post has been updated.
Teenager’s 18th birthday wish was to attend D.C. protests
Standing on 16th Street NW on Saturday night, he watched with his brothers, 16 and 11, and his 55-year-old grandmother as Black Lives Matter members spray-painted three words in giant block letters: “DEFUND THE POLICE.”
Nicole Baker, Gray’s grandmother, said it was an important message. “Police don’t need to be paid to hurt people, to damage homes and lives,” she said.
Born and raised in D.C., Baker was just 4 years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. She remembers the riots and the protests, she said, and the anger.
“He wanted what we want today,” she said. “Freedom.”
At 10 p.m., when the crowd of black protesters raised their fists, so did Baker and Gray, who is biracial. It had been the teenager’s birthday wish to come to D.C. for the protests, Baker said, so the family of six piled into a car and drove down from Pennsylvania to Baker’s home city.
“It was a good birthday,” said Gray, nodding. One he’d have “embedded in his head,” he said.
Mom writes on 2-year-old’s hat: ‘Please don’t shoot me’
When Deja Akers dressed her 2-year-old son Tru to come to the protest at the White House, she picked out a neon green bucket hat, hoping that if he wiggled out of his stroller, she would be able to spot him quickly in the crowd.
But when she met a friend with a Sharpie, and saw all the signs and T-shirts the demonstrators had made, she saw a different purpose for the hat. She took it off Tru’s tight curls and wrote across the front: “Please don’t shoot me.”
Then she wrote on his shirt: “Does my life still matter?”
Her own mother didn’t want her to come down here, to bring the grandbaby to a place so crammed with people and surrounded by police.
“But before I had my son, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what was going on. To hear George Floyd call out for his mom … ” Akers said, her voice quavering.
Tru looked up at her from his stroller, a “My First Words” board book in his lap.
“I will be d----- if someone is going to video record my son dying,” Akers said.
Tru threw the book to the ground and pulled at the straps on his waist, wanting to get up.
“Okay, okay,” Akers said, reaching to unbuckle him. “Stay right here. Don’t move.”
Black Secret Service agent warns white protester to remember his privilege
The white man approached the tall metal fence outside the Treasury Department, shouting at the black Secret Service agent behind it and demanding to know why he didn’t quit his job. It was close to 9 p.m., and roughly two dozen protesters — deprived of police to shout at all day — had quickly massed outside the department after spotting a handful of officers stationed on its steps, apparently eager to engage.
The black agent — and two white colleagues, who were standing farther back on the steps — had remained silent and stony-faced as the crowd shouted “F--- 12!” and “Quit your jobs!”
But now, the black agent stepped forward and looked directly at the white man.
“Be sure to remember this,” he said in a level, low voice that carried, quieting the crowd. “Me putting on this uniform does nothing to take away from being black, and the consequences of being black.”
The white protester stared. The agent took another step toward the fence.
“So, before you ask me that again,” he said, “let me ask you this: What does your white privilege taste like?”
The protester gave an angry shrug. “I’m out here protesting for black people who are getting killed by cops!” he shouted.
“Did you find yourself at a voting booth last election?” the black agent asked in the same low voice. “Have you read Malcolm X?”
The white man took a step back. “I haven’t,” he admitted. “Have you? Have you read it?”
“Yes,” said the officer, “And you don’t get to tell me my expression. You don’t get to tell me — ”
But the rest of his response was cut off as more people arrived, and yelling rose to a crescendo.
“We don’t need this lecture from some pig,” fumed a demonstrator.
Torie Marshall, 38, of Southeast Washington, approached the fence. She wanted to hear what the officer had to say, how he justified protecting a man who spoke openly about arresting protesters and allowed demonstrators to be shot at and tear gassed a stone’s throw from the White House.
“I know he thinks he’s just doing his job, but if you have 100 dirty cops and 1,000 who stand around and let bad things happen, let them hurt people, let them get away with it — then you have 1,100 bad police officers,” she said. “It’s not enough to say, ‘but that isn’t me.’ ”
A few minutes later, with conversation impossible, the agent stepped away and looked at his white colleagues, who nodded. One by one, they filed into a door of the Treasury Department, the crowd cheering their departure.
One protester mouthed the words, “black lives matter.”
The black officer was the last to duck inside.
Trio drove six hours from North Carolina to ‘be part of history’
Protesters had flowed into D.C. from around the region Saturday, but few had traveled as far as sisters Amber and Amara Bird, and their friend Jackie Brown. The trio drove six hours from their home in Charlotte on Saturday morning to make it into the District.
None of them had told their parents.
“They probably think we’re in Charlotte,” said 26-year-old Amber Bird, giggling.
“We didn’t want to worry them,” added Brown. “When we’re home safe, we’ll tell them.”
The trip had been Brown’s idea. After watching a week of protests unfold in the nation’s capital, she wanted to join in and pitched the idea to her housemates after work Friday night. Amber Bird, who was blown away by the videos and images she saw of the giant Black Lives Matter mural on 16th Street in Washington, jumped at the opportunity.
“We wanted to be a part of history,” she said. “Like the March on Washington.”
What the trio saw Saturday was remarkably different from what they had seen in protests back home. The number of protesters in D.C. was hard to fathom, Amber Bird said, and it seemed like there were nearly no police.
In Charlotte, said Amara Bird, 19, there’s always a group of people giving protesters “the side-eye.”
“You can tell from the atmosphere that we have a voice here,” she added.
Imran Sherefa had few takers as he stood on the corner of 16th and K streets NW, offering a water bottle filled with clear alcohol.
“Hand sanitizer, guys?” he asked again and again. “Masks? Gloves?”
Sherefa had been dispensing for days at protests around the DMV. But as the protests had grown in size, fewer seemed worried about the pandemic. He didn’t blame them.
“I think people are deciding the fight for social justice is a bigger fight than their health,” said the 20-year-old, who was born in Ethiopia and now lives in Silver Spring.
“People are risking their lives for this,” he said.
Sherefa, a student at Montgomery College, said he was used to feeding the homeless. But when he posted about what he was doing on social media, he was surprised to receive at least five calls a day from people wanting to donate supplies.
Asked if he was worried about getting sick, he said that he and his friends had begun half joking that they probably already had covid-19.
“But we’re still using hand sanitizer,” he said.
‘We want change, not a mural’: Not everyone loves the ‘Black Lives Matter’ street painting
Spray painted in small purple writing on the gigantic Black Lives Matter street art display in front of the White House was another message: “This ‘mural’ ain’t doing s---.”
“We want change, not a ‘mural,’ ” read another.
Protesters who saw the messages nodded in agreement, laughed and took pictures of their own.
“What is painting a mural doing for black lives?” asked 20-year-old Sydni Lee, who is black. Lee, a college student studying psychology, said the message didn’t make a difference to President Trump.
“He doesn’t care anyway,” she said after snapping a picture of one of the new messages.
Rachel Ham and Ellie Moten laughed when they passed it. “Right?” Ham said to Moten.
“Come on, Bowser,” Moten, 22, replied. She said D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had the mural done “in an attempt to shut us the f--- up.”
“But we are not leaving,” said Moten, who is black.
Sam Tanner, 49, from Arlington, also stopped to snap a picture. “I can see both sides,” said Tanner, who is white. “I thought it was a big middle finger to Trump . . . but we need more.”
Sway, 27, who did not want to give her last name, sat on I Street with a small but potent sign: “A Painted Street Doesn’t Make S--- Better.” She, too, thought Mayor Bowser was getting too much credit for a “gimmick,” an empty gesture that came as she increased the police budget by $19 million.
“If the mayor was serious,” she said, Bowser would put that money into schools or roads. “Soon there’s going to be black blood on that Black Lives Matter street,” said Sway, who is black.
“People are saying ‘Oh, this beautiful block lettering’ — that’s not change. Change is me walking down that street” and not feeling scared if a cop comes the other way, Sway said. Instead, she says, in Southeast Washington, police “harass you just to harass you. . . . You can’t just congregate as black people.” (She made an exception for black female cops, the only ones she said had consistently treated her well.)
Likewise, she said the go-go music blasting from down the street was a distraction: “This is a party,” she said, gesturing to the people dancing. Protesting, she said, “is not fun.” Not when “people still treat us like we’re animals.”
Documents detail Md. bicyclist’s alleged assault of three teens hanging protest fliers
By early afternoon, three friends had hung 50 fliers in and around the popular Capital Crescent bike trail that cuts through Bethesda.
“A man was lynched by the police. What are you doing about it?” one of the fliers read.
“Killer cops will not go free,” read another.
What happened next, according to a newly filed police affidavit, led to a harsh, video-recorded encounter that would be viewed on cellphones around the world. It sent local investigators looking for an enraged bicyclist last seen wearing an orange helmet and silver sunglasses — a search aided by tips from his neighbors and facial recognition software.
On Friday, investigators in Montgomery County arrested Anthony Bernard Brennan, 60, on three counts of second-degree, misdemeanor assault.
According the affidavit, filed in Montgomery District Court, Brennan attacked all three flier hangers he came across: a 19-year-old woman, with whom he is accused of getting into a tug-of-war over the fliers; another 19-year-old woman, whose right arm he reportedly bruised after yanking a roll of blue painter’s tape from it; and an 18-year-old whom investigators say Brennan shoved with his bike and tried to punch.
Powerful moment outside the White House as woman sings, ‘I love being black’
After 7 p.m., on the same street in front of the White House where days earlier protesters were forced out by police in riot gear, a woman stood up on a cooler, threw her head back and began to chant: “I love being black. I said I love being black. Don’t you love being black?”
A group of a few dozen black protesters gathered around her on H Street, in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. They grew louder, clapping along and repeating her words, in an intimate moment of joy and solidarity.
“I love the color of my skin,” Jade Foster, 34, of Southeast Washington shouted as the crowd repeated. “Cuz it’s the skin that I’m in”
“I love the texture of my hair, and I rock it everywhere,” she sang.
Minutes later, she grew quieter as she finished the song: “I said I love being black.”
As she stepped off the cooler, dabbing her sweat with a scarf, Foster said in an interview that she had hoped to create a space of love and healing. But moments like these are also strategic, she said.
“We have to be within our community, strong and proud as a community, in order to enact change,” she said.
On the side of a wrought-iron fence on 16th Street NW, a handwritten sign promised free massages to protesters making their way back to the White House after climbing up to Meridian Hill Park and back down again.
“No way,” marveled one. “Free massages? Is that real?”
“Is that … safe?” asked another.
Alex Turcan thinks so. The massage therapist, who works at Wat Massage, had been giving out free back rubs for hours.
“People seem like they really need it today,” he said. “They’ve been way more popular than I expected.”
With a black face mask strapped around his nose and mouth, Turcan kneaded muscles and eased cramps. Antwan Ward, 31, of Northwest Washington said he felt ready to march, chant and stand for hours more after the break.
“I’ve never seen a massage chair at a protest before,” he said. “That’s why I had to stop.”
On a chair at the gate sat Lio Martinez, 9. His feet dangled and swung as he waited eagerly for his turn.
“I love massages,” he said. “Since they’re already free, I decided to leave them a sign.”
On a chair nearby, sat a sign Lio had drawn. It said, “Help Black people, don’t kill them.”
His mother, Anai Martinez, said she and her son have been protesting for days.
“We didn’t come here for the massage,” she said. “Why are we here, Lio?”
“For Breonna Taylor and George Floyd!” he said, pumping his fist skyward.
“Just them?” his mother pushed. “Or because there has been 400 years of oppression?”
Lio nodded, but it was his turn. He darted to the massage chair and strained to reach his face to the cushion.
“I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity slide,” Lio said as Turcan got to work.
Metro was filled with protesters Saturday, the first time Metrorail’s ridership numbers have climbed above historic lows since the coronavirus pandemic impacted the region.
Metro reported 42,000 passenger trips by late Saturday afternoon, more than doubling the number of trips recorded by the same time one week prior, Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said.
The one-day passenger surge was the first time Metrorail’s ridership had spiked significantly since mid-March, when the transit agency began drastically cutting back on service to limit the risk to passengers and operators of spreading the novel coronavirus due to the limited ability to maintain social distancing on rail cars and buses.
Since then, rail ridership has consistently been down 90 percent or more when compared with pre-pandemic periods. Metrobus, which also saw severe route cuts, has rarely rose above 30 percent of its usual ridership levels.
Despite Metro having nearly 30 stations closed because of the pandemic or construction, riders still flocked to the rail system Saturday. Metro had anticipated the surge, opening up the first and last cars of trains that had been left vacant to protect operators from passengers. It also doubled the usual number of available trains.
It’s still a far cry from a typical Saturday before the pandemic. On March 7, Metrorail recorded 225,000 passenger trips, Metro records show. By comparison on May 23, also a Saturday, Metrorail recorded 20,000 passenger trips or 92 percent less than a similar pre-pandemic day.
Saturday ridership numbers for Metrobus were not immediately available.
Hundreds of protesters who, minutes earlier, has been dancing on 16th Street to “Wobble” and “Cupid Shuffle” fell silent as Kenithia Alston spoke about the killing of her 22-year-old son, Marqueese Alston, by D.C. police in 2018.
Alston described shifting police accounts of what happened and a year-long struggle to get police to release body camera footage of the fatal encounter, despite repeated pleas to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). She said when police allowed her to see the footage of her son’s death, she was only allowed to bring three other people. The video has not been publicly released.
The mother of Marqueese Alston, an unarmed Black man killed by MPD in 2018 in #Ward8, is still seeking transparency & justice. After two years, she’s still asking @MayorBowser to release the BWC footage that she says shows her son running away. She says no public art fixes that. pic.twitter.com/THsNg0osa4
In the crowd, protesters shook their heads and frowned. “Seriously?” a young white man said to his friend when Alston said police at one point told her they could not publicly release the footage because her deceased son had not requested it.
“Tell this mayor to release the body cam,” she said, her voice breaking as she noted that Bowser had Black Lives Matter spray-painted on 16th Street in front of the White House. “Do black lives really matter?”
Jade Ashford had spent all day watching the snacking, the dancing and the selfie-taking happening on the crowded streets in front of the White House. So when someone passed her the megaphone, the 24-year-old Bowie State student knew exactly what she wanted to say.
“It looks like a fun time over there, well it’s not fun. My people are dying,” she cried. “Do y’all hear me?”
“Yes!” the protesters around her called back.
“No I don’t think y’all hear me because it’s mad quiet,” she said.
She asked them three more times then, frustrated, handed off the megaphone to the man beside her.
“I want them to hear me over there where they’re shaking and jiving!” he called.
Ashford shook her head, her long braids sweeping back and forth over her sweating back. She’d come here because she was studying criminal justice, because she planned to become a criminal defense lawyer, someone who could change the system from within.
Until then, she was always thinking about all the things she could do that her ancestors couldn’t, including taking to the streets to scream, to holler, to make demands.
“It’s starting to lose its purpose and message,” she said. “It’s just throwing me off because it needs to be serious right now. It’s not a joke. It’s not a carnival. My people are tired.”
She said she could feel the atmosphere shift after Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) ordered the painting of Black Lives Matter on 16th Street near the White House, a move that thrilled many but annoyed activists who feel Bowser isn’t doing enough to support the ideals behind the slogan.
“That’s cool and all but let’s not forget how much money the mayor puts into the police, and how she hasn’t done enough to stop gentrification,” Ashford said.
Her frustrations wouldn’t keep her from coming back Sunday, or from taking the megaphone again to remind the crowds — especially the masses of white people — what this moment is supposed to be about.
“If I don’t say anything,” she said, “then who will?”