D.C. Protests Against Police Violence Draw Massive Crowds

Jun 7, 2020
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Protests in the nation's capital drew the largest crowds of the past two weeks last night. Tens of thousands took to the streets to chant and march. But the protests had a markedly different feel from previous nights.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Here with us now is NPR correspondent Laura Sullivan, who was out on the streets of D.C. last night. Hi.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've seen instances of clashes between police and protesters, especially in the early days of these protests. How were things different on Saturday?

SULLIVAN: So the numbers swelled throughout the evening, but there was no violence, no clashes with police and just two arrests in the early morning hours for property destruction. There was marching and chanting but also dancing and drum circles and bicycles with neon lights - that kind of thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think things were so different last night?

SULLIVAN: Protesters pointed to the controversial black fences that the Secret Service put up about two days ago. They're about 10 feet tall, and they keep people out of the entire White House area, Lafayette Square. This is where protesters have gathered for decades. But the fencing did eliminate the need for police to stand there in a line with riot shields, which had created a lot of the tension. And there were also fewer visible law enforcement officers out there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So where did the officers go?

SULLIVAN: Federal law enforcement officials told NPR they purposefully pulled back the visible presence of the police. The police were in the city. You just couldn't see them. Officials say they had more than 4,000 National Guard troops and law enforcement officers waiting in locations across the city but in basements and hotels out of view. And it seemed to essentially remove a lot of the tension.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did the protesters feel about this shift in atmosphere?

SULLIVAN: You know, it was mixed. Some said they were glad to be able to chant and march and focus on their message and essentially be left alone. But others said the atmosphere had turned too festival-like, and they worried that their message was getting lost. Here's one protester that I spoke with, 22-year-old Kelsey Jones (ph), who had come out just a few nights earlier when police clashed with protesters in front of St. John's Church.

KELSEY JONES: Last week, me and her were literally right there, kneeling in front of the National Guard and police, very much fighting for our activism rights. Today is just weird, I feel like. People are kind of celebrating, but that's not what I came for.

SULLIVAN: And as some people told us, they wanted to be able to express their anger toward law enforcement to law enforcement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So does it seem like the message of the protesters is changing? Is this a deliberate tactic?

SULLIVAN: I mean, we saw signs about police brutality and larger issues of racism in society. And we even saw some people holding political signs. But every protester had their own reason to come, and, sometimes, it was complicated. We met D.C. police officer Antoine Lasane (ph). He was manning his post on Pennsylvania Avenue when his 14-year-old daughter, Cece Lasane (ph), came bounding up from the protests. She wanted to know if he needed anything. He told us he was proud of his daughter.

ANTOINE LASANE: Personal family views are different. You know what I mean? Like, this is my job. It's my career. So yeah, you got to separate the two.

SULLIVAN: And Cece said to us that she was also proud of her dad.

CECE LASANE: He's actually supporting but working at the same time, so I feel actually comfortable with him.

SULLIVAN: You know, I mean, what seemed like stark lines yesterday were actually sometimes far more gray.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Laura Sullivan. Thank you so much.

SULLIVAN: Thank you so much, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.