Thousands of protesters gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday for its largest demonstration yet over George Floyd’s death in police custody, a capstone on a defining week for a city — and nation — that has grappled with widespread outrage over racial injustice, police brutality and the politics accompanying them.
Demonstrators from about a dozen separate protests marched along normally bustling thoroughfares toward the White House through a large swath of downtown cordoned off by police, in what was D.C.’s largest assembled crowd since the Women’s March against President Donald Trump after his inauguration in 2017.
Officials expected the city to swell with some 100,000 to 200,000 protesters, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said at a news conference Friday. Protests began early Saturday afternoon near the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln Memorial before coming together near the White House.
Large protests also took place across the U.S. and in major cities overseas, including London, Paris, Berlin and Sydney, Australia, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Floyd was remembered in his small hometown of Raeford, N.C., where hundreds of mourners lined up to pay their respects to the African American man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer 12 days ago.
While the initially fiery protests have calmed in recent days after being overshadowed by episodes of violence and looting in cities across the country, including Washington, the anger among protesters over Floyd’s death hasn’t subsided.
Many D.C. marchers, like Angel Ughiovhe, say they’ve come back to protest every day because “enough is enough.”
“We’re tired, we’ve been saying this for way too long, and they haven’t listened,” Ughiovhe said. “When they haven’t listened, this is what you do — you get out here and you make them listen and you get their attention.”
Maya Shapiro, a protester who said she was the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, echoed those sentiments.
“Fight the system, burn it down, start over,” Shapiro said.
Although the protests are seen by many activists to be an inflection point for race relations in the country, President Donald Trump has called for a forceful show of strength including the deployment of military forces to quell them.
Protesters on Saturday made their way around military vehicles parked on march routes and National Guard troops stood in front of the White House’s newly expanded perimeter fence.
Trump was condemned by political leaders from both sides of the aisle after tear gas and rubber bullets were used to remove protesters near the White House in Lafayette Square on Monday for a presidential photo-op in front of St. John’s Church.
Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis publicly panned the Trump administration’s response to the demonstrations in a statement on Wednesday, saying he was “angry and appalled” with the president’s actions.
“We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose,” he wrote.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday ordered home the remainder of the 1,600 active-duty troops brought to the region to respond to protests.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Saturday said “today is the day we pushed the army out of” Washington during an address at the newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House.
“We are well equipped to handle large demonstrations and First Amendment activities,” Bowser had previously written in a letter to the president.
Trump continued to criticize Bowser and further fuel tensions between activists and police throughout the week, on Thursday tweeting a letter calling protesters “terrorists.”
After a day largely free of customary tweeting Saturday, the president tweeted: ”LAW & ORDER!” at 6:49 p.m. Later Saturday evening, Trump tweeted: “Much smaller crowd in D.C. than anticipated. National Guard, Secret Service, and D.C. Police have been doing a fantastic job. Thank you!”
Trump had no public events on his daily schedule for and was not seen to have left the White House.
About 100 protesters gathered Saturday at his Doral golf resort just outside Miami, in a demonstration organized by Latinos for Black Lives Matter. Largely peaceful protests were also held in San Francisco, New York, Nashville, Chicago and Atlanta.
The protests came as the outline of a sweeping new police reform bill being drafted by House and Senate Democrats circulated on Capitol Hill.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), would ban chokeholds, limit “qualified immunity” for police officers, create a national misconduct registry, end the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases and make lynching a federal crime among other dramatic changes.
But Trump’s hard line on the issue may make it difficult for Republican lawmakers to sign onto the initiative.
Dagoberto de Jesus Acevedo, who has been protesting each day in D.C. since Thursday, said accountability is needed at all levels of government.
“I think we have to hold the federal system — Congress, Department of Justice and the criminal justice reform system — accountable of their actions, because enough is enough,” Acevedo said. “We must stop marginalizing and oppressing brown communities.”
Shapiro said Congress also needed to consider “demilitarizing” police forces, a frequent criticism among protesters.
“They have way too much equipment that is unnecessary in our neighborhoods,” she said.
The NYPD suspended two of its officers without pay on Saturday after video posted online showed one officer throwing a woman to the ground and another pulling down a Black Lives Matter protester’s mask to pepper spray him.
Two police officers in Buffalo, N.Y., were also suspended and then charged Saturday morning with second degree assault of a 75-year-old protester after a video of the incident went viral.
Democrats have implored demonstrators to become a part of the political process and channel their frustrations into voting in November’s elections, a plea that some participants in Saturday’s protest heeded.
“It’s imperative that if we want to change the system, we have people going out voting for local elections, voting in November, being informed, telling their friends,” said Jessica Placencia, who signed up nearly 30 people to vote as she marched through the streets of Washington.
Dr. William Blake, an administrator in D.C. Public Schools, said the deaths of Floyd and other minorities at the hands of police “elevated” his mindset to vote for politicians who prioritized their civic responsibility to constituents.
“Not only for black people or white people — but for all people,” Blake said. “I want to make sure that I’m voting for someone that is going to push the norms to make sure we are eradicating a system of oppression that has definitely been placed on black people such as myself over the past hundreds of years.”
Janay Kingsberry and Krystal Campos contributed to this report.
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