Although Bowser garnered national acclaim for painting “Black Lives Matter” on 16th Street near the White House, she has a fraught relationship with local Black Lives Matter leaders, who object to how she has handled police shootings in the nation’s capital. A sweeping police overhaul bill passed by the D.C. Council last week has put Bowser and D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham further at odds with activists.
That tension was on full display Saturday. “She fake,” No Justice No Pride organizer Pontianna Ivan said of the mayor, just before the crowd broke into chants of, “Where Bowser at?”
Bowser was home at the time of the protest and left shortly after demonstrators departed about 8 p.m. A spokesperson for Bowser did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For much of Saturday, the protests against police brutality and racial injustice were smaller but showed no sign of letting up as demonstrations continued for the 16th straight day in D.C. and in communities throughout the Washington region.
As the sun set in the District, hundreds of peaceful protesters marched north on 15th Street toward Meridian Hill Park to voice their outrage over the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Earlier in the day, families, bikers and dog walkers, many wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts and “I can’t breathe!” face masks, made their way to the blocks near Lafayette Square and the White House that have become the focal point of protesters for the past two weeks.
The crowds who squared off against police in violent clashes at the outset of the protests had been replaced with visitors who came to take pictures of signs and murals that blanketed the area, including the yellow, large-block lettering reading “Black Lives Matter” on 16th Street between Lafayette Square and K Street NW.
“I guess our time is now,” said Barrington Mack, who rode his bike to the newly christened Black Lives Matter Plaza from his home in the city’s LeDroit Park neighborhood. “All of our concerns have never been voiced like this since the ’60s.”
Mack, 50, wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words: “I’m not a gentrifier. I’ve been here. DC Native.” It was his first visit to the plaza since protests began in the District. He said seeing the display was a good start.
“For me, it’s a very important symbolic gesture,” Mack said. “The District is acknowledging what we’ve been suffering for 400 years. We need discussions to bring unity and healing to our country.”
“And make sure you get this down,” he added, pointing to a reporter’s notebook. “Reparations should be the be-all and end-all of those discussions.”
Additional protest marches and gatherings Saturday were planned across the city and in neighboring suburbs, including Alexandria and Ashburn in Virginia and Gaithersburg, Mount Airy and Edgewater in Maryland.
In Richmond, a few thousand people turned out on Monument Avenue for Virginia’s 5,000 Man March Against Racism.
After two weeks of alternately violent and peaceful nighttime protests in the city, the afternoon event felt like a festival. Amid the avenue’s graffiti-covered Confederate monuments, straw sun hats and live gospel music mixed with Black Lives Matter T-shirts and chants of “no justice, no peace.”
“We should be spreading love — love and peace and kindness — because that’s what’s going to make the biggest difference,” said Mario Powell, 23, handing out free hot dogs and fried fish sandwiches from Godfrey’s, a downtown drag club.
On the sidewalk, Jeffery Lamont Peters held a poster-size photo of his late nephew, Marcus-David Peters, a teacher fatally shot by Richmond police during a mental breakdown in May 2018. Marcus-David Peters was unarmed, naked and visibly disturbed when he lunged at an officer, according to police, who concluded the officer fired in self-defense.
“Don’t forget about what happened in your own backyard,” Peters called out to the passing marchers.
Though protests in Washington were calm Saturday, the fronts of most downtown buildings remain boarded up — a sign that property owners remained wary of tensions flaring again. Most visitors took advantage of the peaceful atmosphere and sparkling June weather to pay homage at the site of earlier, larger protests. Many brought their children with them.
Andre McLemore stood Saturday with his two children, admiring the collection of signs remaining on the black fence outside Lafayette Square.
McLemore, 49, said he decided to bring the children to the protest for the first time on Saturday because he had been worried in previous days about safety.
“It was important for them to see the movement and the outrage, not only from black Americans, but from all the minorities,” said McLemore, a federal contractor from Gaithersburg.
He said he recently has been having more conversations with his son, Donovan, about how to interact with police as he prepares to start driving. He said he tries to teach his children to love everyone, regardless of their race, but also to realize that not everyone feels the same.
Early Saturday afternoon, dozens gathered in front of the White House for an impromptu open-mic session.
Stacia Wright, 43, shared with the crowd that her 8-year old son recently told her, “Mommy, I don’t want to go outside.”
She hadn’t let him watch the video of Floyd’s death but had tried to explain it to him, and to tell him that because of the color of his skin, he might be treated differently than his friends. But she also told him not to be scared.
“We have a right to be able to tell our children that it’s literally going to be okay,” said Wright, of Laurel, Md. “I don’t want to lie to my son.”
Wright, an event manager, said she hadn’t brought her son to the protest because she wanted to check it out herself first, to protect him. But after seeing the peaceful families gathered, she said she wanted to bring him next week.
The uptick in visitors, young and old, was also proving good for business. More than a dozen vendors set up tables along 16th Street selling T-shirts, masks and posters for those who wanted to proclaim their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hassan McEachin, 26, had piles of T-shirts and masks for sale on his table at 16th and I. The Olney, Md., resident said he earned $5,000 in sales Friday and sold out of his supply. On Saturday, he brought hundreds of child-size shirts to sell.
“A lot of people were asking for shirts for their kids yesterday, so I knew they would do well,” McEachin said. Another vendor aimed at an even younger market: He was doing brisk business selling Black Lives Matter onesies for infants.
Not all demonstrators in Washington on Saturday were voicing support for police reform and structural change.
Two dozen people, most of whom were white, gathered on the Mall in a show of support for law enforcement — the first such event the nation’s capital has seen in more than two weeks of protests over the killing of Floyd.
The event, called “We Back Blue,” aimed to give conservatives a voice in the ongoing national conversation about the role of police, according to a video posted to Facebook by organizer Melissa Robey. The schedule for the event included speeches and a march to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Throughout the day, different groups of racial injustice demonstrators made their way to Lafayette Square and Black Lives Matter Plaza. One group included dozens of lawyers, who marched from the headquarters of the National Bar Association on 12th Street to the White House, many of them wearing “Black Lawyers Matter” T-shirts.
“We have been fighting injustice and inequality for 95 years,” said Alfreda Robinson, president of the association, which is the nation’s largest network of African American attorneys. “This was a moment. We would not have missed this moment.”
Robin Cooper, 49, packed into a van with a half-dozen friends Saturday morning and drove nearly four hours from her home in Philadelphia to reach the nation’s capital in time for a Black Lives Matter rally hosted by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Cooper, who helped organize the rally and is president of Teamsters Local 502 in Philadelphia, said it felt wonderful to march with fellow Teamsters through the streets of Washington to speak out against police treatment of black Americans, which she views as a human rights violation.
“Black lives are human lives, black lives are Teamster lives,” she said. “I’m a Teamster, and I’m black, and I’m proud.”