The confrontations were the latest to transpire near the White House, where protesters have been gathering for weeks to protest racial injustice since the May killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
They also came a day after thousands gathered in the District on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial, to rally for racial justice and police reform following the killing of Floyd and other Black Americans and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
Police records indicate that since last Monday, 15 people, ranging from ages 18 to 53 have been arrested, including the five overnight. Of the 15, nearly half were charged with assault on a police officer, authorities said.
Those arrested late Saturday and early Sunday include a 27-year-old woman charged with felony rioting in front of the White House, and a 29-year-old man and a 59-year-old woman each charged with assault on a police officer. A 27-year-old man was charged with reckless driving on Black Lives Matter Plaza, and a 24-year-old man faces weapon charges.
Authorities, who have been criticized for taking a more aggressive stance against protesters, on Sunday defended the use of force to respond to a group that police said “began engaging in riotous behavior at Black Lives Matter Plaza and throughout the city” and threatened officers, including some who used lasers to visually impair officers, according to police.
They said five officers were injured.
The police union said one officer was taken to the hospital Saturday night “with vision loss after a rioter directed a laser into his eye.” According to the union, six officers have been hospitalized for injuries since Thursday night.
The police department said in a statement that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the police agency “will always protect the rights of those engaged in nonviolent First Amendment assemblies, however, those who engage in criminal behavior and seek to cause harm to others will be held accountable.”
The mayor’s office declined to comment, referring a reporter to the police department’s statement.
Marchers protesting for racial justice confronted police and toppled newspaper boxes and set some on fire Saturday night in Adams Morgan in Northwest Washington, before converging near the White House and prompting a tense standoff with police.
Shouting familiar chants of “No Justice! No Peace!” the protesters asked diners to raise their fists in the air before police on bicycles arrived. The demonstrators shouted at the officers before toppling the boxes and lighting two of them on fire at about 9 p.m.
The group of about 175 people continued marching through Northwest D.C., going into several neighborhoods, including the U Street corridor and Dupont Circle, chanting, toppling garbage cans, setting off small fireworks and additional small fires.
Around 11:40 p.m., that group of protesters, along with other, smaller groups that had been marching through the city, converged on Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House.
There, dozens of police officers in riot gear cleared the plaza, firing off flash bangs and chemical spray. A chaotic scene unfolded as demonstrators fled. Scores regrouped at 16th and K streets, where they defiantly continued to set off fireworks and confront police. Police again used chemical spray to disperse the crowd.
Two city officials said police moved in on the protesters because projectiles were thrown at them. A third city official said police had been monitoring the incidents in Adams Morgan. “Our officers have an obligation to act and keep our city safe,” the third official said. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the response.
As the standoff continued, police moved the line toward protesters as the demonstrators threw water bottles at officers and kicked gas canisters back toward them. The standoff and tension continued well past midnight Sunday. A helicopter circled overhead, its spotlight angling over the downtown area, as tensions continued to rise and police continued to use flash bangs and gas.
Anthea Yur, 26, a protester from Minneapolis, said the confrontation escalated after police at the line at 16th and K streets seized a protester in the intersection and pulled the person behind the line.
“That’s what started the confrontation,” said Yur, a manufacturing engineer who works with families touched by police violence. “Then they started shooting flash bangs.”
Yur helped a man whose foot was injured after one of the flash bangs went off. She said it looked as if a shard of the flash bang — which is a plastic grenade-shaped canister that can hold irritant-filled pellets — had penetrated the man’s flesh. She said another person was apparently struck by a less-lethal round that might have broken a rib.
Salmomée Souag, 23, of Portland, Ore., shared a picture showing a hard rubber pellet she found in the street that appeared to be a riot-control device known as a baton round.
D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) on Sunday took to Twitter to call out Saturday’s standoff, calling for peaceful demonstrations moving forward. She said the images of the demonstrations “remind us that we as a community must address and heal the wounds of the past and are a clarion call for our local government to forge and lead this community along the path forward.”
Pinto said she plans to address “the use of force and militarization of local law enforcement” with the city and D.C. police, while she also called on protesters to “remember that our true power lies in our collective voice, not violence. We must reject the notion that violence resolves our issues.”
Since Floyd was killed on Memorial Day, there have been nightly protests in the District and around the country.
On Saturday night, as the protesters marched through Northwest neighborhoods, there were several tense encounters.
On U Street, a protester holding a baseball bat had been warning bystanders and members of the media not to take video while marchers damaged cars or set small fires.
Josiah Pope, 23, who plays professional basketball overseas and had been injured in a motorcycle crash, came out on the stoop of his walk in the 1600 block of U Street wearing a neck brace. He wanted to record the scene and tell the demonstrators they should not be disturbing residential neighborhoods.
As Pope stood on the stoop, the protester — wearing a helmet and carrying the aluminum baseball bat on his shoulder — walked up the steps and told Pope to stop recording.
Pope wasn’t having any of it, and the two men — both of whom are Black — began to argue.
“Get the f--- out of my face!” Pope, whose right arm was in a sling, yelled at the protester, mocking him for threatening a person who was obviously injured.
Pope bent over, pointing to his cheek and daring the protester to slap him and promising worse in return. Other protesters — also dressed in black and wearing protective gear — grouped around him. He continued to record while protesters tried to block him with their hands or shine bright lights on his phone before the marchers moved on.
“My thing is, I’m a Black man from Washington, D.C.,” Pope said in an interview afterward. “I don’t mind the protesting. I was out there. … [But] you don’t come down here burning down s--- and breaking s--- in the name of Black Lives Matter. There’s a difference between peacefully protesting … and rioting and vandalizing.”