Thousands of protesters came out despite oppressive heat Saturday to protest against police brutality in D.C. It was the largest day of demonstrations since the May 25 killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
Protests erupted in Minnesota shortly after Floyd’s death, and the unrest spread to cities across the country in the following days. Saturday marked the ninth consecutive day of protests in the District, and the day of Floyd’s memorial service in his home state of North Carolina, where long lines gathered to view his body.
After a string of violent clashes between police and protesters, protests have remained largely peaceful over the last few days, both in D.C. and across the country, during the week after Floyd’s death.
There were no arrests during demonstrations on Thursday and Friday in D.C., and Mayor Muriel Bowser canceled the curfew that had been in place since Monday.
There wasn’t a curfew Saturday.
District’s protests began early, went late
WTOP’s John Domen reported hundreds of people had descended on 16th, I and H streets near Lafayette Square park, which has become a common focal point of protests in the city, as early as 9:15 a.m.
Ten hours later, after a hot day with temperatures hovering near 90 degrees all afternoon, protesters had gathered at numerous key points throughout D.C.: the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza, the U.S. Senate Side of Capitol Hill (along Constitution Ave N.E.), the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at the Tidal Basin, and stretching for blocks north of Lafayette Park along 16th Street NW.
WTOP’s news partner NBC 4 reported early Saturday night that there had been no arrests made, even with the large crowds in the District.
As of 7:30pm, no arrests have been made by DC Police at today’s demonstrations. There are also no reports of arrests made by U.S. Park Police or Secret Service on federal grounds. @nbcwashington
— Tom Lynch (@TomLynch_) June 6, 2020
WTOP’s Dave Dildine reported that the crowds of peaceful protesters stretched multiple blocks toward Scott Circle, a distance of about a half mile.
— Dave Dildine (@DildineWTOP) June 6, 2020
WTOP’s Ken Duffy followed the protests throughout the afternoon and sent in this audio of those walking toward the White House from Scott Circle.
Duffy said unlike the intense protest atmosphere of recent days, Saturday was more about “showing up here, and just being here, in the moment.”
WTOP’s Alejandro Alvarez began the day at Black Lives Matter Plaza, reporting that there was live music, supply stations and a memorial for Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 on Friday.
Alvarez described Downtown D.C. at 2 p.m. as “one giant protest zone,” with a number of marches and gatherings happening in different areas of the city. Chants of “no justice, no peace,” and “prosecute the police,” rang out in Foggy Bottom.
However, by Saturday night, he compared the area around Lafayette Square, the scene of the scary scene on the evening of June 1 when U.S. Park Police and others broke up the protest just before the District’s 7 p.m. curfew, to the Coachella Music Festival with a “political twist.”
A Go-Go music truck was even on the scene as those rallying were enjoying each other’s company and dancing.
One note of dissent in all the positivity, however, as a group did use chalk to stencil “defund the police” next to the Black Lives Matter stencil Mayor Bowser authorized on Friday morning.
The message is in reference to an increase for traditional policing measures in the most recent D.C. budget proposal.
The 16th Street corridor is buzzing with music and chanting tonight, with the drum circle still going strong and the go-go truck now parked within earshot of the White House.
A lone violinist is playing beneath a black lives matter banner pinned to the fence at Lafayette. pic.twitter.com/0NskJrDg18
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) June 7, 2020
Downtown Washington is one giant protest zone right now, crisscrossed with a multitude of marches—some organized, others the result of an on-the-spot call to walk.
Thousands are moving through Foggy Bottom chanting “prosecute the police” and unswayed by the summer-like heat. pic.twitter.com/Xs27H357BK
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) June 6, 2020
Midway through the afternoon, Alvarez reported that D.C. plow and salt trucks passed by the protest area close to Lafayette Square and honked their horns in a show of solidarity. Listen to the audio below.
WTOP’s Capitol Hill correspondent Mitchell Miller and Duffy started their afternoons from Capitol Hill, where the University of the District of Columbia’s law school hosted a march to the White House. About 1,000 were gathered there around 2 p.m.
Another crowd is gathering on Capitol Hill. They’ve just taken a knee outside the Dirksen senate building, about to embark on a march of their own.
Sometimes you’ll hear a roaring chant round the corner and reverberate to the other end of the block. This one’s big. pic.twitter.com/EynE6Zcb3i
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) June 6, 2020
Renee Hutchins, a dean and professor at the law school, told the assembled crowd: “We cannot stop today. What is the legacy going to be of this right now? Every single one of you has to commit to take the energy of today’s march and transform it to tomorrow’s action.”
By about 3:15 p.m., Duffy walked over a mile in the stifling heat to the west from the Capitol Building to what’s now become known as Black Lives Matter Plaza, just north of Lafayette Square. He said his group merged with thousands of people already there. “To the east, west and north,” he said, “it is just filled with people, and it continues to grow.”
As the afternoon progressed, Duffy reported “people being jammed” into the newly-named area.
Meanwhile, in the same area, Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen trucks were offering free salads to those downtown, as Alvarez reported.
As day turned to night, the residential neighborhood close to Meridian Hill Park in Northwest, already an oasis of green that brought out walkers, joggers and others seeking fresh air during the District’s coronavirus-mandated lockdown became a hub of activity. Alvarez provided video of gatherings toward the northern end of 16th Street NW closer to the park.
The party doesn’t end once you step away from the White House. Walk a mile up 16th Street, a largely residential neighborhood, and there’s a truck blasting live go-go music to the delight of everyone on the lengthy march south from Meridian Hill. pic.twitter.com/ATwEjVItE7
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) June 6, 2020
The neighborhood close to Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, had been the scene of “kettling” by D.C. Police earlier in the week, prompting many cornered protesters to take refuge in the homes between 14th and 15th Streets NW.
Alvarez, who had returned to Black Lives Matter Plaza by 7 p.m., called the atmosphere an “all day party,” marked by food, music and dancing.
The day, however, started with a more spiritual tone at the Lincoln Memorial.
WTOP’s Melissa Howell reported that those who gathered before noon held a worship service.
Once the protest began, about 700 had gathered at the memorial to listen to black leaders perform spoken word.
— Melissa Howell (@Mhowell003) June 6, 2020
Across the Potomac in Virginia, Arlington Fire Department said in a tweet it will provide multiple Emergency Medical Service teams to support the peaceful marches and demonstrations in Arlington. The department warned of rolling road closures and traffic delays. Social media reports indicate at least 1,000 took part in a march from the Arlington Courthouse to Downtown D.C.
Marches and protests are planned throughout the day in the District and in Maryland and Northern Virginia. There’s even a Black Joy Party schedule for 9 p.m. in Lafayette Square.
Officials prepared for huge crowds
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters Friday that local officials were projecting between 100,000 and 200,000 protesters in D.C. on Saturday.
“We’re hopeful that the demonstrations that we see today are similar to the demonstrations that we have seen the last couple of nights where they are largely peaceful. And that’s what we anticipate,” D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham said in an interview with WTOP Saturday morning.
But Newsham said high temperatures and thick humidity are another concern as numbers continue to swell Saturday.
Newsham said the city has set up cooling centers for people to get relief from the heat, as temperatures top 90 degrees in the District.
Four cooling centers are available for protesters or anyone who needs shelter from the heat Saturday:
- John Wesley AMEZ Church, 1615 14th St NW, Washington, DC
- Foundry United Methodist Church, 1500 16th St NW, Washington, DC
- New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC
- National City Christian Church, 5 Thomas Cir NW, Washington, DC
D.C. police announced Friday that a large swath of roads would be closed to make room for protesters. See a full list of road closures here.
- Va. state police break up protest stopping traffic on I-95
- US Park police say denial of ‘tear gas’ but use of PepperBalls in June 1 protest was confusing
- More active-duty troops leaving D.C., others remain on alert
- Floyd mourned, celebrated as death used as call to action
The demonstrations come as authorities have sought to reduce tensions by having National Guard troops not carry weapons.
Businesses open their lobbies, bathrooms for protesters
Several businesses in the D.C.-area, such as the 9:30 Club, promised to open their premises to protesters who needed to rest, get water, use the bathroom or charge their phones.
The map below shows spots in the District that will open their doors to protesters.
Many had said they would only allow a maximum of 10 people inside at a time in order to keep up social distancing measures recommended by the city for slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
This is a developing story. Stay with WTOP for the latest.
WTOP’s John Domen, Melissa Howell, Ken Duffy, Alejandro Alvarez, Scott Gelman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.