Another night of protests rocked Washington, D.C., this evening, with police tear-gassing some demonstrators, arresting others, and even buzzing crowds with helicopters in an apparent attempt to get them to disperse. Largely absent was the vandalism, arson, and violent confrontations between protesters and police that characterized the past several nights of demonstrations.
The evening started out tense enough: Mayor Muriel Bowser had declared a 7 p.m. curfew which made anyone out on city streets past that hour—save for media and essential workers—able to be arrested.
1/ A citywide curfew is in effect during the following times:
•Monday, June 1, beginning at 7:00 p.m. and ending at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 2;
•Tuesday, June 2, beginning at 7:00 p.m. and ending at 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 3.
— Mayor Muriel Bowser #StayHomeDC (@MayorBowser) June 1, 2020
Businesses throughout the city's downtown were busy boarding up their windows in the late afternoon, all in anticipation of another night of looting. A few shops nevertheless sported hopeful "We're open!" and "Support small business" signs.
We're open! We're closed! Businesses trying to survive COVID-19 and looters pic.twitter.com/sCX0LMDVzG
— Christian Britschgi (@christianbrits) June 1, 2020
They'd been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns. Then came the protests.
Some of the most aggressive tactics by police came earlier in the night. As I approached the White House, I saw police fire some sort of crowd dispersal munition at protesters well before the city's curfew was in effect. Bowser later criticized that incident on Twitter, laying the blame on federal police who are not part of the city's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
I imposed a curfew at 7pm. A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!
DC residents — Go home. Be safe
— Muriel Bowser #StayHomeDC at 7 pm (@MurielBowser) June 2, 2020
Nearby, a group of protesters called attention to a package of what appeared to be fireworks placed in a garbage can. They loudly accused the cops of planting it, before being shooed away by police.
— Christian Britschgi (@christianbrits) June 1, 2020
This was followed shortly thereafter by police firing tear gas and charging protesters near the North Lawn of the White House, reportedly in an attempt to clear the streets so that President Donald Trump could make a short speech at St. John's Episcopal Church (which had been set on fire during Sunday night's protests).
Police beat protesters—including members of the media—with clubs as they tried to back up.
SHOCKING: to see members of the media also taking direct, *intentional* punches and swings from police as they cleared the streets of protesters outside the White House. #protest #Washington #WashingtonDCProtest #PictureOfTheDay pic.twitter.com/7zR154O6Jg
— Scott Thuman (@ScottThuman) June 1, 2020
"I want the organizers of this terror to be on notice that you will face severe criminal penalties and lengthy sentences in jail," said Trump during his St. John's speech, according to The Daily Beast. "This includes antifa and others leading instigators of this. One law and order and that is what it is, one law, we have one beautiful law."
"I am outraged," said Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, according to The Washington Post in response to Trump's visit. "I don't want President Trump speaking for St. John's."
Elsewhere around the White House, interactions between police and protesters were largely peaceful, if tense, for the first few hours after the city's curfew went into effect.
Demonstrators would alternate between taking a knee and standing with their hands raised, chanting things like "Don't shoot" or "I can't breathe" (a reference to the last words of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police set off a week of protests across the nation).
In one tense moment, a crowd of protesters marched right up to the police line as several protesters shouted directly in individual officers' faces.
— Christian Britschgi (@christianbrits) June 2, 2020
"Don't give them a reason," said one woman, in an attempt to calm one particularly rowdy demonstrator down. "I want to give them a reason," he shouted back at her.
As darkness fell, police began to employ more aggressive tactics. They surrounded some demonstrators who had made their way from the White House up 14th Street and arrested them.
— Tyler ????➕???? (@Tnick333) June 2, 2020
— dusk (@FvkwiTimade) June 2, 2020
About 100 others on 14th Street managed to escape arrest after one person let them take refuge in his home, according to Washington Post reporter Derek Hawkins.
Tense situation on Swann Street in DC. Cops surrounded protesters and started firing pepper spray. A resident let more than 100 protesters take shelter in his home. "I'm not letting any of these kids out of my sight," he told me over the phone. pic.twitter.com/Bk6NOIbAwf
— Derek Hawkins (@D_Hawk) June 2, 2020
Closer to the White House, crowds were cleared away with flash-bang grenades.
One gaggle of protesters who made their way away from the White House toward Judiciary Square was buzzed by low-flying helicopters that kicked up dust and reportedly caused tree branches to fall off, almost hitting people.
— Daniella Cheslow (@Dacheslow) June 2, 2020
The Teamsters union headquarters was reportedly heavily vandalized late in the evening. Aside from that, fears of another rash of arsons and attacks on businesses appear to have been overblown, yet tensions in the city remain high. Tomorrow brings another 7 p.m. curfew, as well as the chance that attempts to enforce it might spiral out of control.
Update: Park Police are denying that they used tear gas on protestors, contradicting reports from journalists at yesterday's demonstrations.