The unrest has come to Donald Trump’s doorstep as protesters clash with the Secret Service and police outside the White House for the second successive day.
Chanting “I can’t breathe”, “Black Lives Matter” and “Fuck Donald Trump!”, hundreds of demonstrators on Saturday circled the White House grounds, which have come to resemble a fortress more than at any time in recent memory.
Armored Secret Service, along with District of Columbia police and park police, lined up in front of the protesters, forming a barricade as the US president returned to the White House from a trip to Florida. Lafayette Square, the park in front of the executive mansion, was sealed off with steel barriers.
Protest at the White House started on Friday, when a crowd of hundreds had gathered in front of the president’s residence and Trump tweeted that protesters could have been attacked with “vicious dogs and ominous weapons” wielded by the US Secret Service.
On Saturday, some protesters stayed near the White House, while others marched through the streets chanting, “No justice and no peace.” and “Say his name: George Floyd.” The mood was angry and several speakers implored marchers to remain peaceful.
The march paused between the the Washington Monument and the African-American Museum and demonstrators sat down in the street for a moment of silence for each minute that the Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck.
At the Lincoln Memorial, one organizer spoke over a megaphone “Look to the left and to the right and thank that person. We can’t hug anybody because of Covid but I love you anyway.” Many of the protesters wore masks, but did not socially distance themselves.
On Saturday evening, protesters overcame the barriers near the White House and entered the park in front of it, but were driven out by police wielding shields, batons and pepper spray. Demonstrators damaged several Secret Service vehicles and threw themselves against officers’ riot shields, the Washington Post reported.
Tensions rose as the night wore on.
A car was set on fire and the windows of some businesses smashed two blocks from the White House.
Trump has done little to calm the situation. His tweets on Friday drew fierce condemnation from the mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser, for using the language of violent segregationists during the civil rights era. “To make a reference to vicious dogs is no subtle reminder to African Americans of segregationists who let dogs out on women, children and innocent people in the south,” Bowser said.
In a series of tweets early on Saturday, he claimed the White House protest “had little to do with the memory of George Floyd,” appeared to invite his supporters to counter protest and urged the Minneapolis mayor to respond more forcefully to the unrest in his city. At the Kennedy Space Center, he announced a civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death but also again lashed out at “Antifa and the violent left” whom he blames for protests spreading across the US.
And in the evening, as protests raged across the country, he tweeted that Minneapolis leaders should have deployed the national guard earlier.
The National Guard has been released in Minneapolis to do the job that the Democrat Mayor couldn’t do. Should have been used 2 days ago & there would not have been damage & Police Headquarters would not have been taken over & ruined. Great job by the National Guard. No games!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
The Secret Service said in a statement Saturday that six protesters were arrested in Washington and “multiple” officers were injured. There were no details on the charges or nature of the injuries. A spokesman for US park police said their officers made no arrests, but several suffered minor injuries and one was taken to a hospital after being struck in the helmet by a projectile.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.