Sweating, packed closely together and shouting through masks worn to protect themselves from the deadly coronavirus still consuming the Washington region, the protesters launched fireworks and threw bottles at the officers, who swung batons and fired pepper-spray projectiles to push them back. As the sun began to set, D.C. National Guard trucks rumbled through the streets.
As demonstrators made little headway in their efforts to approach the White House, they dispersed into smaller groups through downtown D.C., burning and breaking windows as they went. A CVS, optometrist’s office, liquor store and Indian restaurant several blocks from the White House were looted.
Around Farragut Square, City Center and Georgetown, they smashed the facades of businesses with rocks and baseball bats. At the entrance to The Oval Room, an upscale District restaurant that was attacked, a message was spray-painted in red:
The rich aren’t safe anymore!
In Georgetown and City Center, police deployed to protect businesses from looters. Connecticut Avenue near Farragut Square was littered with shattered glass and burned-out garbage cans. Outdoor tables for dining were overturned and vandalized. Fireworks could be heard late into the night. At least two cars were burned.
The D.C. police union said one of its members had been hospitalized after being struck with a rock. Protesters also suffered injuries. Toward 2 a.m., police at Lafayette Square could be seen leading one with a large gash on his arm to paramedics.
The confrontations came after an extraordinary scene outside the White House in the early hours of Saturday that captured the anger and divisions that have gripped the nation. More than 1,000 demonstrators massed along Pennsylvania Avenue, throwing bricks and rocks and dispersing only after 3 a.m., when the Secret Service began to fire chemical agents. No similar scene has unfolded within view of the North Portico of the president’s home in recent memory.
By Saturday night, that scene was unfolding again. Lafayette Square — the park in front of the White House where tourists can ordinarily be seen strolling around statues of Andrew Jackson and a suite of Revolutionary War heroes — was walled off with metal barricades, another symbol of America’s dramatic departure from the normal course of civic life.
At the north edge of the park, police clashed repeatedly with a dense pack of protesters for whom the social distancing practiced through months of a pandemic seemed a distant memory. Streetlights shone dimly in the hot summer night through a haze of tear gas. A young man began to wave an American flag above the crowd, and a chant rose up around him.
The second round of clashes erupted just hours after President Trump, responding to the unrest in Washington, made a string of inflammatory statements on Twitter. He warned protesters they would be attacked by “vicious dogs” if they breached the White House grounds, falsely accused D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) of refusing to let her city’s police force help quell the demonstrations and appeared to invite his supporters to clash with protesters in the streets Saturday night.
On social media and at an afternoon news conference, Bowser said the president had “glorified violence” with his comments, saying they were “an attack on humanity and an attack on America, and they make our city less safe.” She said his Twitter posts harked back to some of the darkest scenes of the civil rights movement, when police unleashed attack dogs on peaceful black demonstrators.
“I’m just shaken that an American president would utter such words about fellow Americans,” Bowser said.
It was an unusually visceral statement from a mayor who typically exercises restraint in responding to the president’s periodic baiting of District government officials. Bowser and D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham said city police had in fact joined with Secret Service and U.S. Park Police on Saturday to control the demonstrators on Pennsylvania Avenue, even supplying the Secret Service with extra protective gear.
The Secret Service issued a statement that appeared to confirm that account, saying: “The Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Park Police were on the scene.”
Washington Post reporters at the scene of the protest early Saturday morning observed D.C. police present.
Bowser also issued a sharp rebuttal of the president’s comments on Twitter.
“While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism,” the mayor wrote of Trump. “There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone.”
Newsham and Bowser said they are prepared for additional demonstrations over the weekend. The National Guard was deployed Saturday near the White House to help the Park Police manage the protesters.
Demonstrations began again in the District on Saturday morning as a few dozen protesters met outside the White House. They included Jerry Collins, a 74-year-old deacon at Holy Family parish in Hillcrest Heights, Md.
Collins said he felt encouraged by the attention focused on Floyd’s death and other cases of institutional racism. “I hope the groundswell maintains,” he said. “It says people want change.”
By the afternoon, the number of protesters swelled to the hundreds, starting at the Capitol, many shouting, “Let us breathe, let us breathe!” A car caravan organized by Black Lives Matter protesters also rolled across the city as demonstrators gathered downtown.
The protests in the District were among those in many cities nationwide. The Minneapolis police officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
In Richmond, crowds damaged buildings and state offices surrounding the Virginia State Capitol on Friday, prompting officials on Saturday to close Capitol Square until further notice.
A window was broken in the Barbara Johns Building, which houses the offices of the state attorney general. Also vandalized were the visitor’s entrance to the state capitol, the Virginia Supreme Court building and the Washington Building, which houses several state offices.
On Saturday night, further demonstrations in Richmond turned violent, as looters broke into a Boost Mobile store on Broad Street and began setting gasoline fires in trash cans and dumpsters.
Friday’s demonstrations in the District began about 5 p.m., with a gathering of several hundred people at 14th and U streets NW. Newsham said that group quickly grew to more than 1,000 people, who marched south to the White House. A few skirmishes occurred there before the group marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, then through several neighborhoods, a highway and the Third Street Tunnel. A group returned to the White House about 11:30 p.m.
The District’s Metropolitan Police Department, which has nearly 4,000 sworn officers, routinely coordinates closely with the Secret Service and other federal law enforcement agencies that help protect the nation’s capital, including the Capitol Police and the Park Police. The agencies handle many demonstrations each year.
Authorities said bricks, fireworks and water bottles were thrown at officers, and some demonstrators sprayed mace. At least one demonstrator was able to grab a riot shield from Secret Service officers. Others tore bricks from the street and broke them into smaller pieces.
The Secret Service said in its statement that six people were arrested. “Demonstrators repeatedly attempted to knock over security barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue,” the statement said. “No individuals crossed the White House Fence and no Secret Service protectees were ever in any danger.”
At one point, demonstrators were able to wrest some of the metal barricades away from officers. Police issued two warnings to disperse at 3:30 a.m. before the line of officers with shields advanced through the park, some firing chemical spray.
Trump responded with a number of tweets on Saturday morning. “Great job last night at the White House by the U.S. @SecretService. They were not only totally professional, but very cool,” he began.
The president added, “They let the ‘protesters’ scream & rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone … got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard — didn’t know what hit them. The front line was replaced with fresh agents, like magic. Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence.
“If they had they would … have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action. ‘We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and … good practice.’ ”
About a half-hour later, Trump tweeted again, this time taking aim at the demonstrators: “The professionally managed so-called ‘protesters’ at the White House had little to do with the memory of George Floyd. They were just there to cause trouble. The @SecretService handled them easily.” Then he seemed to encourage his own supporters to come to Pennsylvania Avenue: “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???”
There was no sign Saturday that supporters of the president had launched any counter-protests in the District. But on Saturday, as midnight approached, a second night of fierce demonstrations showed no signs of abating.
Langston Thomas, 22, was talking to police when a canister of tear gas exploded nearby. Gas wafted over him as two women — strangers to Thomas — guided him to safety and poured milk in his eyes.
Thomas, who lives in Montgomery County, had just returned to the capital region after graduating from Grinnell College, where he studied political science.
“Anyone who has looked at the history of the United States knows that the system wasn’t built for black people,” he said, wiping tear gas and milk from his face.
“I just have to stand my ground,” he said. “And be on the right side of history.”
Samantha Schmidt, Peter Hermann, Michelle Boorstein, Joe Heim, Fredrick Kunkle, Lauren Lumpkin, Perry Stein, Laura Vozzella, Clarence Williams, Rachel Weiner and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.