The Washington D.C. area is bracing for the fourth night of protests by boarding up buildings near the White House and increasing the law enforcement presence as people continue chanting and marching to protest the death of George Floyd in police custody.
With the 7 p.m. curfew looming, protestors were staging at Capitol Hill just after 4 p.m. and chanting as Senators prepared for a vote later today.
Meanwhile, buildings near the White House were boarded up after a Sunday night that saw fires pop up throughout the area, including a basement fire in the historic Saint John’s Church. Fire crews were able to extinguish the blaze.
The Monday afternoon protests come after a weekend of rioting in the nation’s capital left deep scars in the shadow of the White House and across the city where 88 people were arrested, while dozens of law enforcement officers, including Secret Service agents were injured.
In response, Attorney General William Barr deployed federal riot teams to D.C., and Miami in an attempt to quell violent clashes between protesters and police.
Riot teams are being sent from the federal Bureau of Prisons, while the FBI also has directed its elite Hostage Rescue Unit to help in D.C., a senior Justice Department official said Monday.
The federal prison riot team arrived Sunday in Miami, where peaceful protests there turned violent Saturday, as police cars were burned and officers targeted by attackers with rocks and bottles.
In D.C., the smoldering aftermath resembled ugly scenes in cities across the country following the killing of George Floyd. Sunrise yielded smashed storefronts, heaps of shattered glass and iconic national monuments stained by graffiti.
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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a curfew Monday beginning at 7 p.m. and continuing for two days. She said significant damage was done around the White House on Sunday and she spent the morning assessing it. She supported peaceful protests Floyd’s death, but said that violence cannot be allowed.
“There is significant damage in the downtown areas, especially in the blocks immediately around Lafayette Square,” Bowser said. “Smashed windows and looting are becoming a bigger story than the broken system that got here.”
Police Chief Peter Newsham said 44 of the 88 people arrested overnight Sunday were charged with felony rioting.
“We’ve seen rioting,” Newsham said. “We’ve seen significant property damages.”
Newsham said looting extended beyond the city center to Georgetown, a popular restaurant and shopping district.
“The looting was expansive,” he said.
Newsham said more arrests are expected, as police gather more information from business owners and from closed-circuit television recordings downtown.
Most of the people arrested so far were from the D.C. region, but he said that didn’t rule out a potential organized criminal enterprise behind the violence.
“I anticipate there will be more arrests,” Newsham said, also warning that curfew violations will be strictly enforced.
“That is a warning,” the chief said.
Newsham is offering up to $1,000 rewards for anyone who can identify people who was involved in violence during the protests.
“My sense is that people will be angry. People will not want to have a recurrence of this,” Newsham said of potential tipsters. He said there were no arrests in connection with reports of gunfire in Georgetown, although shell casings were recovered. No injuries were reported.
Bowser said she visited St. John’s Church Monday to inspect the fire damage, which appeared to be confined to a nursery away from the main sanctuary.
“I was quite angry at the destruction and the arson,” said Bowser, who called it “intolerable.” “That does not advance the cause of the protesters.”
The church, located on the perimeter of Lafayette Square just north of the White House, is known as the “Church of Presidents.” Consecrated in 1816, every president since James Madison has attended services there.
In Miami, Assistant Police Chief Manny Morales said much of the violence and destruction was inflicted Saturday night, when “instigators” took advantage of what had been a largely peaceful protest. Many threw rocks and bottles at police officers.
Fifty-eight people were arrested, many charged with resisting with violence, Morales said. Five police cars were set ablaze, three of which were completely engulfed. Fewer than a dozen businesses were looted and vandalized.
“These were not the demonstrators, but criminals who were taking advantage that some of the police were tied up,” Morales said. “The vast majority of the protesters are law-abiding citizens that are exercising their constitutional rights.”
Morales, who said he wasn’t aware that federal riot teams had been deployed to Miami, said the protests on Sunday were much more peaceful, except for a few incidents involving graffiti. Sunday night, peaceful protesters blocked “some agitators” from breaking into a CVS pharmacy, Morales said.
Police are trying to find those protesters to thank them. “It was spectacular and uplifting to see,” Morales said.
A citywide curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. remains in effect.
Barr’s deployment of riot teams came as he joined President Donald Trump on a conference call with the nation’s governors, urging more aggressive action against protesters.
The attorney general told governors they have to “dominate” the streets and control, not react to crowds, according to audio of the call obtained by CBS. He urged them to “go after troublemakers.”
Trump called for more of the same.
“You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people,” Trump told the governors. “If you don’t put it down it will get worse and worse.”
Trump and Barr have attributed the violence to the group known as Antifa, a loosely affiliated far-left anti-racist group that have participated in past episodes of civil unrest.
The president and the attorney general have yet to offer specific evidence of that claim, while local officials have blamed far-right groups including white supremacists for instigating some of the violence.