WASHINGTON (CN) — What only 73 hours ago was a city block consumed by a chemical agent used to replace peaceful protest in Lafayette Square with a presidential photo op, became on Thursday a center of communal gathering for voices to be lifted, bellies to be filled and plans for change to be ignited.
A low-hanging sun poured down on protesters who made the square in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church their own erecting tables with food, water, facemasks and other supplies marchers might need — all gratis — as they walk the streets of Washington to express a shared outrage at the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man and father, at the hands of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. A series of memorials for Floyd began Thursday in Minneapolis, and he will be buried Monday in his hometown of Houston.
Their grievances were aired on protest signs, in speeches delivered through bullhorns and through rousing harmonies of “We Shall Overcome,” sung as demonstrators knelt in honor of Floyd for nine minutes while facing, with stony resolve, the north flank of the White House.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser lifted the citywide curfew Thursday, marking the first time in three days that police were fewer in number along Pennsylvania Avenue and surrounding blocks. There was little to no indication that Bureau of Prisons officers were on patrol near Lafayette Square and protesters moved orderly and freely, showing no signs of fatigue as they plan to continue with another series of marches through the weekend.
Ravi Perry, chair of the political science department at Howard University, wrote in an email Thursday that all too often protest of injustice in the United States is “episodic,” and the country moves on to another event. But for protesters to truly find justice for Floyd, the effort must be sustained through November.
“While George Floyd‘s murder has resulted in the charging of four cops, whether or not they are sentenced, the cause of justice for all black Americans, for all victims of police brutality will ultimately be determined by the elected official we vote for and the policies they propose,” Perry wrote.
Stuart H., an Arlington resident and first-time protester, said Monday’s events inspired him to come to Washington and demonstrate. As protesters marched down H Street from the White House Thursday, he was busy scrubbing graffiti near the Woodward Building — and has done so and met a handful of others doing the same — for the past two days.
Stuart said for years he had flown an American flag in front of his home. Partway through the Trump presidency, he took it down.
The nation is not representative of the “hypocrisy,” this president represented, he said.
“I haven’t talked to my kids about the protest really since they started. They’ve been with my ex-wife,” Stuart said. “But I’ve talked to my kids about President Trump and how he really embodies everything that Jesus spoke against and to see him gas protesters — peaceful protesters — and shoot them with rubber bullets so he could go get a photo op in front of the St. John’s Episcopal Church is spitting in the face of my Lord.”
He continued: “I’ve never protested before, but I wouldn’t be down here if it wasn’t for George Floyd. And that was a horrible situation, something systematic absolutely needs to change. But when I saw what our federal government was doing to peaceful protesters, that enraged me.”
House and Senate Democrats plan on responding to the ongoing civil unrest and protests against police brutality which have reverberated in more than 140 American cities over nine days and counting.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, announced at a press briefing Thursday members of the Congressional Black Caucus would introduce a bill next week, to address excessive force, qualified immunity and racial profiling.
Congress also needs answers on the increased militarization of Washington, she said, as many law enforcement officers have refused to identify themselves beyond a generic response of “the Department of Justice.”
Pelsoi sent a letter to Trump, demanding to know which agencies were deployed in the city. She also requested the current National Guard troops’ chain of command, mission, and by what authority they were sent to Washington.
“The practice of officers operating with full anonymity undermines accountability, ignites government distrust and suspicion, and is counter to the principle of procedural justice and legitimacy during this precarious moment in our nation’s history,” she wrote.
As protesters sat in McPherson Square after marching from the White House, one demonstrator said she was proud of the resolve of the younger generation.
An elder black woman, through a bullhorn over the distant sound of a marching band, she told the crowd gathered there to maintain their focus and resolve.
“We are happy about the police in Minneapolis, but we have a long way to go to dismantle the systematic and methodical racism that this country was built on,” she said to applause. “We need to be in the streets until that is dismantled. Don’t stop even when we get convictions. Don’t stop when we defund the police.”