The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Protesters target D.C. diners, triggering backlash after heckling woman

Lauren Victor refused to go along with raising her fist — although she supports the movement

Video taken on Aug. 24 shows a group of protesters heckling a diner at an outdoor restaurant in Washington, D.C., urging her to raise her fist in solidarity. (Video: Fredrick Kunkle/The Washington Post)
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A demonstration that began Monday evening in the District to protest the shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin wound its way through two of the city’s entertainment districts, targeting diners in a tactic that has triggered backlash online.

The crowd of protesters confronted a woman seated at a table outside a restaurant on 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan and demanded that she raise her fist in a show of solidarity.

“White silence is violence!” protesters chanted, many with fists in the air.

“Are you a Christian?” a protester demanded, yelling into her face.

But the woman, Lauren B. Victor, refused, even after her dining companion complied.

“I felt like I was under attack,” Victor, 49, an urban planner and photographer who lives in the District, said in an interview afterward.

Footage of the incident went viral.

Conservatives and liberals alike agreed that the confrontational tactic was a misstep that might undermine the protest movement’s intended message.

The Black Lives Matter rally, which began about 6:30 p.m. Monday at Columbia Heights Civic Plaza on 14th Street NW, drew several hundred people. They engaged in a call-and-response as protest organizers with bullhorns told how Kenosha, Wis., police had shot and critically injured Jacob Blake. The police shooting, which is still under investigation, has reinvigorated protests against police violence and triggered outbreaks of rioting.

Jacob Blake paralyzed after Kenosha police shooting, family and attorneys say

In D.C., however, protesters wound their way up 14th Street, chanting, “No Justice, No Peace,” and, “Fire, fire, gentrifier — Black people used to live here.”

Near Quincy Street, the crowd gathered outside restaurants, alternately accusing diners of enjoying “White privilege” and encouraging them to show support. At one table, a young man who objected to the intrusion tried to explain that he worked for a nonprofit organization committed to addressing mental health care for Black people and other underserved populations. Protesters crowded in further around the table, shining video lights in the diners’ eyes and exchanging angry words.

The marchers, now about 150 strong, wound their way to Adams Morgan without further incident.

On Columbia Road, a young Black woman who was leading the protest explained the importance of engaging White people in the struggle for justice and encouraged White protesters to take the lead in confronting diners on 18th Street NW.

Several diners at other tables went along, standing or raising their fists, until the crowd homed in on Victor and her companion in front of Los Cuates, a Mexican restaurant.

“I wasn’t actually frightened,” Victor said.

Victor said she was a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and had marched in previous demonstrations. But Victor said she also felt that it was wrong for hundreds of people to surround a small group of diners, approach them with their hands raised, and try to cow them into making a show of support.

“It just felt overwhelming to have all of those people come at you. To have a crowd — with all that energy — demand that you do this thing. In the moment it didn’t feel right,” Victor said.

“They like to think because I raise my fist it means something or other.”

As the crowd moved on, Chuck Modiano continued to yell at Victor.

“Good for you — you stood your ground,” Modiano said, demanding to know if she had seen the video of Blake’s shooting. “We’re not going to change this [expletive] for people like you.”

Modiano, who identified himself as a “citizen journalist” who writes for Deadspin, said he wanted to understand her resistance.

“What was in you that you just couldn’t do this?” Modiano asked. “They all did — all the other tables. You were literally the only one of 20 other people. So there was something in you that was different from all the other people.”

Victor explained that she just felt coerced and somewhat threatened — although she also said she wasn’t afraid.

“I didn’t think anyone was actually going to do anything to me. I appreciate their anger,” she said in an interview. “On one level, my best guess was no one was going to hurt me. But those things turn on a dime.”