Demonstrators protest on June 6, 2020, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, over the death of George Floyd.Alex Brandon / AP
By Lauren Egan
WASHINGTON — Thousands of people gathered outside Washington, D.C., monuments and the White House on Saturday protesting the killing of George Floyd, years of unanswered calls for police reform and President Donald Trump's use of military personnel in response to largely peaceful demonstrations.
“I’m tired of the racism. Just tired,” said Rochelle Grate, a 58-year-old information technology specialist from Fort Washington, Maryland, who described the Saturday protest as “beautiful, peaceful and diverse.”
“This is different," she said about the protests seen around the country over much of the past two weeks since Floyd, a black man, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. "It snapped people not of color to say ‘Man, this is real and I’ve been blind to it.’”
After more than a week of protests in Washington, city officials said they expected Saturday to be the largest demonstration yet with potential for tens of thousands of people taking to the streets.
“We anticipate the largest demonstrations with regards to numbers that we’ve seen in the city to date,” said D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham at a press conference on Thursday. “And we anticipate that the protesters will continue to be as peaceful as they have been over the past couple of days.”
Newsham said no arrests have been made during protests since Tuesday.
Earlier in the week police officers had lined the perimeter to Lafayette Square, moving closer to the fenced-off crowd as protests grew more rowdy.
There was no police line in Lafayette Square on Saturday and no cops were seen in the blocks surrounding the White House as people danced, painted signs, and marched around downtown.
Protests in the District at times turned more violent last weekend as police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators outside the White House last weekend after some protesters threw water bottles and bricks across a barricade at law enforcement officers. Some protesters set fire to cars and broke the windows of office buildings in the blocks surrounding the White House.
The tension between protesters and law enforcement in Washington peaked on Monday when police and federal officers forcibly removed peaceful protesters from the street across from the White House so President Donald Trump could take a picture in front of St. John's Episcopal Church, a congregation known as the Church of the Presidents, which was damaged by fire during demonstrations on Sunday.Protesters gather outside the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, June 6, 2020, for another day of demonstrations following the death of George Floyd.Lauren Egan
Later on Monday, military helicopters were seen flying low over protesters. The D.C. National Guard has opened an investigation into the use of the helicopters.
“I’ve only felt fear once and that was on Tuesday when I went out to vote,” said Tom Roucche, 61, a D.C. resident who said he had to pass through hundreds of law enforcement officers to get to his polling location for the districts primary earlier this week. “I felt we were living ... somewhere not the U.S.”
“But I’ve never felt fear in the crowds," said Roucche. "This has been great to see.”
Pamela Reynolds, a 37-year-old teacher from Washington who protested last weekend, said she could see the difference between Saturday and earlier protests.
"It was scary, heavy. It wasn’t this,” said Reynolds. When asked what changed the atmosphere, Reynolds said it was the arrests of the Minnesota police officers charged in Floyd's death. “This feels powerful, like it may make a difference."
“We now have allies,” said Che Washington, 30, a school counselor in D.C., pointing to how diverse the crowd was on Saturday. “Now it feels like everyone is fighting, they’re at least trying. It’s and affirmation to what we’ve been feeling.”Medical workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic march down 16th towards the White House on Saturday, June 6, in a show of support for those protesting George Floyd's death.Lauren Egan / NBC News
Trump's actions on Monday motivated even more people to join in peaceful protests outside the White House, with thousands of demonstrators showing up throughout the week to call out aggressive policing tactics, racism and the militant approach the Trump administration has taken in response.