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.