Asked why he was there, Romney, the first GOP senator to attend the protests that have been disparaged by President Trump and several other members of his party, embraced the week’s mantra, saying he wants to find “a way to end violence and brutality and to make sure that people understand that black lives matter.”
The nationwide demonstrations, sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, showed no signs of letting up, as thousands of protesters crowded near the White House, on Capitol Hill and across the region.
Hundreds of evangelical Christians sang, prayed and banged tambourines Sunday afternoon as they crossed the Anacostia River to head downtown from Southeast Washington. The group, diverse in age and race, was organized a few days ago among conservative evangelicals who felt the marches haven’t had enough explicitly Christian voices — and because, some leaders said, they personally wanted to repent.
Starting off the march on a nondescript side street off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Anacostia was David Platt, pastor of one of the nation’s largest and most high-profile evangelical churches, McLean Bible.
“We pray that you would forgive us for our history and our present,” Platt, who is white, said as he marched.
Platt was introduced by Thabiti Anyabwile, the pastor of Anacostia River Church and one of conservative evangelicalism’s more outspoken black figures on issues of racism.
“We praise you in particular today, Jesus, as this group, for taking the judgment we deserve,” Platt said.
“As your children we pray you would forgive us for our history and our present. God forgive us,” he said, pausing a long time, “for the sin that so infects our heart.”
“We’ve not represented our Lord well,” said Kaili Walker, 35, who carried a sign reading “Jesus is for justice.”
“If you say you’re with Jesus, you have to be for justice,” she said. “It should be the church in front but it’s a shame, in past years we haven’t been.”
Anyabwile said he helped organize the event after watching all week how few events were clergy-led.
“This iteration of civil rights is not located in the church, so the church is playing catch-up when it was once the vanguard,” he said.
His church is racially mixed, he said, but conversations about the causes and solutions for racial inequality are challenging.
“One skill we don’t have as a country or a church is conversation,” Anyabwile said. “We’re unpracticed at that and so we’re wrestling with hope.”
But, he added while walking across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge toward the Capitol, “This moment feels different.”
At the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the group of evangelicals and several hundred more demonstrators prayed some more, led by Anyabwile.
“Our protest needs to be different,” he told the crowd.
Sweating Christians of mixed ethnic and racial backgrounds closed their eyes and readjusted their grips on posters filled with faith-centered slogans. A young black woman stepped forward to read a spoken-word poem, repeating again and again in a rising crescendo, “the rage and the pain and the anger,” with tears running down her cheeks.
In addition to the religious tone of Sunday’s protests, references to the civil rights era also were evident across Washington.
Along the closed-down streets leading to the White House, several hundred people marched in a demonstration meant to recall the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery.
Nearby, an African American spiritual group sang “We Shall Overcome,” their words echoing through the streets as they knelt in front of the White House.
Before the Selma-Montgomery reenactment started in Southeast Washington, the Rev. Vernon Miller of Southeast’s Evergreen Baptist Church, asked God to look kindly on the hundreds of marchers gathered before him on a green lawn.
“We are putting our lives in your hands,” Miller said in prayer.
Then — tailed and headed by a small escort of police on motorcycles — the group spilled into shuttered streets, chanting and singing as they headed toward the White House.
At the front of the crowd, Stephanie Municci, 30, adjusted her grip on the black-and- white banner reading “LOVE MERCY” and tried to breathe through her blue face mask in the punishing heat and humidity.
She had organized the event, she said, teaming up with friends and pastors throughout the District and Northern Virginia.
Municci, who works at a downtown law office, at first thought only a few friends would join her.
But news of the event spread swiftly on social media, and now she walked alongside more people than she’d ever expected to see on such a hot day, with the words of the gospel songs “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine” pushing them forward.
Jorge Mendoza, a 26-year-old pastor-in-training from Hagerstown, Md., walked in silence, streaming the moment live on Facebook from his phone.
He wanted to bear witness, he said, for those unable to march.
As the column passed into residential areas, people stood up from their brunches to clap. Joggers paused on sidewalk corners to watch. People sunbathing and playing racquetball in a park turned and cheered.
A woman ran outside her home, calling out, “Hey! I love these people!” and handed a bottle of ice-cold water to the closest marcher.
Jason Thomas, 42, bowed his head for a moment before stepping off the sidewalk and motioning to his wife and three children to begin marching alongside him. Thomas, who is black, held a cardboard sign that read “I AM A MAN!” — a famous declaration black sanitation workers made during their 1968 march in Memphis.
Meanwhile, in front of the White House, the “We Shall Overcome” gospel choir had finished and the group returned to this year’s declarations: “Say his name! George Floyd! Say her name! Breonna Taylor!”
They then marched along 14th and H streets NW, singing another gospel song, kneeling briefly on the hot asphalt to pray.
At other times during the day, the mood outside the White House was cheery, with some demonstrators posing for selfies and young boys pushing carts with bottles of water for sale.
Across the Washington suburbs, meanwhile, thousands more took part in demonstrations.
In Maryland, protests were held in Takoma Park, Clarksburg, Silver Spring, Gaithersburg and Germantown, while in Virginia, gatherings were held in Falls Church and in Fairfax and Arlington counties.
Nine miles from the District, several hundred people gathered in Falls Church near the site where the first rural branch of the NAACP was started a century ago at what is now the Tinner Hill historic site.
“Would we be angry two years from now, two decades from now?” a woman told the crowd gathered at Cherry Hill Park. “Yes!” the crowd shouted back. And she continued: “We cannot allow the anger to fade.”
North of the District, in Takoma Park, a youth-led march Sunday morning drew a big crowd, among them many families with young children shouting “Black Lives Matter” and carrying signs that read, “I stand with you” and “Racism is a Pandemic.”
In Gaithersburg, hundreds of people, many of them teenagers, marched from Lakeforest Mall and through the city’s downtown, shouting, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” Six miles away, in nearby Germantown, several hundred protesters blocked traffic on Maryland Route 355, holding “Black Lives Matter” signs and kneeling in silence at the busy intersections with Ridge Road. Some vehicles passing by honked in support.
In Richmond, demonstrators Saturday night used ropes to yank a monument to Confederate Gen. Williams Carter Wickham off its pedestal.
Wickham’s statue came down shortly before 11 p.m., following a day and night of otherwise peaceful protests in Virginia’s capital — the former capital of the Confederacy. Police removed the toppled statue for safety reasons, Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley said in an email Sunday.
Despite the enormous crowd that massed near the White House on Saturday, President Trump on Sunday sought to play down the gathering while announcing he was decreasing the heavy presence of federal crowd-control forces on D.C. streets.
“I have just given an order for our National Guard to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, D.C., now that everything is under perfect control,” Trump said in a Sunday morning tweet. “They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed. Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!”
As he tweeted those words, more demonstrators were headed toward the White House. About 11 a.m., Michael A. Jackson pressed his face against the metal fence at Lafayette Square and sang “America (My Country, ’Tis of thee)” in the direction of the White House.
“From every mountainside, let freedom ring!” he sang, as bystanders cheered and clapped. Jackson, vice president of the Georgia Avenue Business Improvement District and Development Corp., said he came downtown to send a public message that Floyd’s killing was unacceptable in a nation that stands for freedom and democracy.
Jackson gestured toward the new barrier at the park and borrowed from President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 speech about tearing down the Berlin Wall. “Mr. Trump,” Jackson said, “take this fence down and heal this nation.”
Meryl Kornfield, Luz Lazo and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.