Protesters demanding an end to racial injustice following the death of an African American man in police custody took to the streets of Washington for the third straight weekend.
In Washington, “multiple First Amendment demonstrations” were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, said the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.
The atmosphere Saturday in downtown Washington was that of a street fair, along the area renamed last week to “Black Lives Matter Plaza.” Booths dotted the sidewalk, selling T-shirts and BLM masks. Musicians played in Lafayette Park in front of the White House as an artist chalked a saying on the sidewalk that read “Sorry for passing judgement instead of extending empathy.”
Protester Helena Hammond-Dodol, from Baltimore, Maryland, area called it a nice break instead of marching and protesting. She said people are taking time to “celebrate the small wins that the protests have accomplished.”
Hammond-Dodol said she appreciates the policy changes the protests have achieved, like New York City’s banning of chokeholds while holding police officers more accountable. But she said she hopes enforcement will follow the policy changes.
On the other side of Lafayette Park, closer to the White House, chants of justice erupted from the crowd. A memorial of posters had been hung on the barrier separating the crowd from the White House campus. Photos, names and dates indicated the black men and women who died in police custody.
Gerald Johnson brought his wife and two children downtown for the first time. They walked the length of the memorial wall, reading the names. Johnson said he “felt hope seeing so many races out here for one cause.”
The 41-year-old black man said he’d been to other protests but had never heard all the white people chant “Black lives matter,” rather than “All lives matter.”
Many roads and bridges leading to the White House were blocked so protesters from the Washington suburbs in Virginia and Maryland could march into the city. Many of them were on their first outings, because both states reopened more from the coronavirus quarantining late last week. But the crowds in downtown Washington were still smaller and quieter than expected.
Protests demanding justice and systemic reforms erupted across the U.S. after George Floyd died May 25 after white officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes even as Floyd said he could not breathe, one of the many deaths of black Americans in recent years during or after encounters with police.
In the southeastern U.S. city of Atlanta, protesters gathered outside a fast-food restaurant where an African American man was shot dead by a police officer Friday night. Protests also were held in the northwestern U.S. city of Seattle.
Last Saturday, thousands of people protested in the streets of Washington against police brutality, the largest demonstration in the capital city since Floyd’s death.
Floyd’s family and American civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton said in a permit application filed recently with the U.S. National Park Service they were planning a large demonstration for criminal justice reform in Washington in late August on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The historic “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” occurred August 28, 1963, drawing between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
The march featured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, during which he said “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge.”