WASHINGTON — Across Lafayette Park from the White House, workers scrambled on Sunday to secure businesses in the heart of the nation’s capital, ahead of what many feared may be another night of fury over the police killing of George Floyd.
“I was called at two o’clock in the morning and again this morning,” said Bryant Woltz, a glass contractor boarding up the Bombay Club, ordinarily the scene of power lunches between politicians and the media elite. “They said we need all hands on deck; this is an emergency.”
Across from the Bombay Club, another restaurant, the Oval Room, was graffitied with “THE RICH AREN’T SAFE ANYMORE!” Nearby at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building, which had been set on fire and had its windows smashed, Bill Voge, 35, was hastily slapping gray paint over more graffiti. “We’re trying to recover as best we can from what transpired last night and then tonight it’s supposed to be the same thing, so we’ll probably be back tomorrow, doing the same thing,” he said, paint roller in hand.
Later in the day, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser imposed a citywide curfew from 11 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday and activated the D.C. National Guard.
The Saturday protests had begun peacefully at 2 p.m., opposite the Justice Department. “We want charges,” an organizer shouted into a megaphone. “We want convictions. No more acquittals. We want these people to be held accountable.” Protesters marched down to the National Mall, snaked around the Reflecting Pool and came to a stop at the statue of Ulysses S. Grant on horseback. There, with the Capitol building in the background, they chanted “George Floyd!” and the names of other victims of police brutality, including Breonna Taylor and Philando Castile.
“We built this country, and it’s time for people to respect us,” said Pamela Alston, 31, an insurance underwriter from Southeast Washington. Jarrell Slade, 26, a school counselor and Washington native, said: “I’m fed up. I’m tired of going on social media, talking to my friends and family, and having everything be centered on black death.”
Malik Harris, 23, a global studies major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, rented a house in Washington with friends for the weekend to join the protest. “I’m supposed to be doing my homework right now for the summer semester,” he said. “But I definitely want to be present for everything.”
Later in the afternoon, crowds swelled on H Street near the White House and then took off through the streets. They marched past the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, blaring N.W.A. They enveloped traffic on Constitution Avenue. Every car honked in solidarity. Marco Silva, 28, was driving a “College Hunks” moving service truck when he was swarmed. But he was not bothered. Hopping out to light a cigarette and pump his fist in the air, he said: “I think this is beautiful. What everybody is doing right now is a beautiful thing.”
A significant portion of the demonstrators were white, and they joined with the largely African-American crowd to protest police aggression. Cameron McCall, 23, a self-described social media influencer, helped organize the protest, with an emphasis on peace, and said: “We’ve seen that we have a strong voice on social media with our generation, and look at us now, united, walking, and off our phones. Beyond shoes and clothes and celebrities, we are doing it for a purpose.”
As the day progressed, marchers knelt near the National Museum of African American History and Culture for nine minutes of silence, around the time that Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee was on Mr. Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis. As they moved on past the World War II Memorial, they urged tourists to join them. The sun began to dip as they rested at the Lincoln Memorial.
President Trump, who returned to the White House on Saturday evening after a day at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, had suggested in a tweet that Saturday would be “MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE” and that his supporters might turn out in their red “Make America Great Again” caps. But there were no red caps to be seen among a sea of hundreds flooding H Street.
By 9 p.m., tensions between the police and a growing crowd of protesters broke out, with demonstrators wresting the barricades from the police, who in turn volleyed canisters of tear gas into the crowd.
“Water with baking soda helps,” said Azzah Davis, 19, who was kneeling in a nearby alley trying to recover from the gas. “We were protesting, I don’t want to say peacefully, because things were getting out of control, and the cops were shooting people with rubber bullets. They started throwing mace and people picked it up and threw it back.” She added: “It’s very long overdue. We have been peaceful long enough.”
A flaming dumpster illuminated the police as some demonstrators hurled bricks and other projectiles their way. Despite the pandemic, many people in the crowd had no choice but to discard their masks to cough and sneeze as the acrid tang of tear gas whipped up and down the block.
Sarah Cooper, a 27-year-old accountant, was holding a sign that mentioned Covid-19. “It’s a systemic issue. Black people are more likely to die from Covid-19,” she said. After three hours in front of the White House, she added, “it’s kind of disorganized, but I think it’s nice that people are still coming out to push for change.”
By 11 p.m., a Chevy Suburban on I Street was in flames and the crowds fanned out, smashing windows and trying to wreck as much as they could.
By 5 p.m. Sunday, there were already hundreds of people protesting outside the White House.