They looked so similar to the policemen who, just 24 hours earlier, had been threatening the 24-year-old behavioral therapist with pepper spray. Ramos, a resident of Manassas who participated in the Saturday confrontation there that left seven injured and five in custody, took a deep breath and fought down memories of flashbang grenades and fear.
She looked Prince William County Deputy Chief of Police Jarad Phelps in the face.
“I think we both think it shouldn’t have gotten to that point,” she said. She told him how terrified she’d felt kneeling as tear gas dusted her shoulders and burned her eyes: “My faith was a little shaken in you guys.”
Her voice quavered, and Phelps bit his lip. But she rallied.
“I just wanted to really thank you guys,” Ramos said, as cheers spread throughout a crowd of hundreds. “I really appreciate seeing this side of you guys.”
As darkness fell, tensions began to rise among some in the crowd who shouted at and surrounded a police officer. But elsewhere, music blared as other protesters began dancing in the parking lot.
Late Sunday, authorities declared an unlawful assembly after a group of 50 to 75 people moved to Manassas City and began throwing items and damaging property, including some businesses, Phelps said.
No injuries or arrests were reported as of early Monday.
The demonstration on Sunday was one of many across the Washington region and beyond held after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. In the nation’s capital, protesters and police clashed again in Sunday in Lafayette Square outside the White House and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) imposed a curfew from 11 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Monday.
In Maryland’s Montgomery County, dozens blocked an intersection in Germantown during a protest Sunday afternoon. The protest, which began near the Montgomery College Germantown Campus around 2 p.m. Sunday grew to about 100 people over the next few hours.
Montgomery County police were on the scene directing traffic around the demonstration. “It is a peaceful protest so it is something that we 100 percent support,” said Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Tom Jordan. “This is why we are in this country. You are able to express your displeasure and we are supportive of that.”
Ahead of Sunday’s demonstration in Manassas, police in Prince William County said they were bringing in extra staff and girding for more unrest.
On Saturday, six police vehicles were mangled by rocks or debris and five businesses damaged, including one store into which demonstrators attempted to ram a car, Phelps said during an emergency session of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
In increasingly tense exchanges starting around 4:30 p.m. Saturday and lasting until 1 a.m., protesters lobbed stones at police and also reportedly stopped passing motorists to jump on the roofs of their cars and assault some inside the vehicles.
In response, Phelps said law enforcement used “a chemical agent” and rubber bullets to try to force calm. He said the injured included two state police officers and four county police, one of whom received stitches for a wound on his face. There was only one civilian injury, Phelps said: a woman whose foot was run over by a car.
“There was tremendous restraint from the officers,” he said. “It could have been much worse. It’s very trying to have things thrown at you [and] watch your fellow officers get injured.”
He said police arrested five individuals after declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly following reports of attacks on motorists.
Phelps told county leaders he thinks Saturday’s events would fuel retaliatory responses from protesters over the next few days, including on Sunday evening. But he declined to ask the board to impose a curfew, saying it “is only going to add fuel to the fire.”
“We’re just dealing with hot spots right now,” Phelps said. “We don’t want it to become widespread.”
Virginia State Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas) — who said police targeted him with stun grenades and pepper spray during Saturday’s protests — said he was more worried about police strategy going forward.
Carter said he stopped by the protest after seeing reports of “police violence” from constituents on Twitter. He said he had phoned ahead to let police know he was coming, but was ignored as he approached a line of officers and asked to speak to the one in charge.
Carter, who says he identified himself as a member of the state legislature, said a law enforcement official threw a stun gun at his feet. He says he also was targeted with more flashbang grenades from police even as he walked away and later, was shoved to the ground and pepper sprayed.
The Republican Party of Virginia called on Carter to resign after a video showed the lawmaker saying “I write the state police budget and they’re going to f------ regret this!” during the Saturday confrontation.
Carter replied on Twitter with a simple “no” and said he stood by his comments, specifically promising he would work to shrink the police budget. “When an executive branch agency flashbangs a legislator and then pepper sprays him and flashbangs him two more times, there should be a reprisal for that,” he said. “That is an agency that is out of control.”
Sunday evening, hundreds gathered around four policeman — Phelps, an officer, a major and the police chief of Manassas City — for hours beneath a bewitchingly pretty sunset. They didn’t chant, they didn’t throw things, they didn’t march. They just talked: Back and forth, soft and loud, about what it meant to be black, and what it meant to be a police officer, and what it meant to be American.
Some demonstrators asked questions about police policies and training. Some asked the officers how they felt about what happened to Floyd, who died after an officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Still others asked if they could get hired into the police force.
Every few minutes, someone shared stories of an unfair arrest, or an unnecessary loss, or of an encounter with law enforcement they just couldn’t fathom. Phelps, who is white and a lifetime resident of Prince William County, nodded and listened to every speech.
“My heart goes out to you about the loss of your brother,” he told a young black man, before explaining the police department’s pursuit policies.
“If an officer has done wrong,” he said to another man, “he needs to be held accountable. I need to be held accountable.”
The evening happened by chance — by the will and love of God, according to Joshua Wesley, creative arts pastor for Chapel Springs Church in Bristow, Va. He had participated in the horrific Saturday protests, and when he read on social media that demonstrators were going to gather again on Sunday, he decided he had to come out again, too.
He showed up to the parking lot around 4 p.m. with two large speakers — normally used for church events — and a lot of hope, but no clear plan. Pretty soon protesters began to gather, and then police stopped by to check things out. When officers noticed the microphones and the chance for dialogue, deputy chief Phelps said, they decided to stay and answer questions.
“We just don’t have opportunities like this very often,” Phelps said.
Emily Davies contributed to this report.