I had the honor of joining in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) Black Lives Matter–endorsed protest events this past Saturday evening in Washington, DC, at both Freedom Plaza (a location of one of the Occupy DC encampments back in fall 2011) and the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza. From what I’ve seen, heard, and read, these recent BLM protests are distinct from the past in that an unprecedented number of white people are joining in solidarity with the protests across the country. The events were Black led and Black voiced, and people were happy to make space in conversation for each other. There was an outpouring of mutual aid from different organizations giving out sanitizer, masks, water, snacks, meals, and street medic services.
After the “We Keep Us Safe” Go-Go rally (go-go is a popular music subgenre originating in DC) had made its way from Freedom Plaza to Black Lives Matter Plaza and left, the local DC chapter of the New Black Panther Party (not affiliated with the original Black Panther Party) led an impromptu march up and down the plaza with a sizable following from the attendees. This was an improvement in their popularity compared to nearly three weeks ago, when they demonstrated outside local Chinese restaurants in response to media reports of mistreatment of Africans in China. The protesters are looking for guidance with regard to police abolition, and organizations like the NBPP already have their own vision for community self-defense, organizational structure, and winning over recruits.
As the evening continued and the event became a street party in celebration of the plaza naming, street artists with Black Youth Project 100 took direct action to the plaza mural, painting over the stars on the DC logo and adding “DEFUND THE POLICE,” making the whole plaza read “BLACK LIVES MATTER = DEFUND THE POLICE.” This is directly in front of St. John’s Church where Donald Trump held his Bible photo-op earlier in the week. The paint proved resistant to the street sweepers that came by after midnight.
Throughout the night, protest chants and songs were directed not only against the police but also against Donald Trump. Some speeches also criticized DC Mayor Muriel Bowser for not doing enough to ensure racial justice from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), which she controls. The protesters I talked with were frustrated with the failure of police reform and suggested various kinds of police abolition. Some even spoke of drastic reduction in military spending to support improved social conditions at home. There was also concern about corporate dominance of traditional and social media shaping public view against the protests. Saturday’s DC protests were entirely peaceful, although I spotted an unmarked police sedan weaving between protesters in the plaza at nearly 20 mph. No one was reported injured, and protesters didn’t rise to the obvious bait. There was also the attempted police intimidation by the presence of rooftop snipers from an unidentified agency atop the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute building (because of course). Some protesters shined spotlights and green lasers at them when they noticed the rooftop snipers weren’t holding rifles.
As the night continued, I checked out one of the free food stalls, Earl’s First Amendment Grill, which offered meat- and plant-based meal options. I wasn’t particularly hungry and didn’t partake, but I helped with cleanup when asked after they ran out of food around 2:00 Sunday morning.
Speaking of cleanup, the protesters did an amazing job with picking up after themselves. Garbage was bagged up neatly and leftover signs affixed to the fencing on the north section of Lafayette Park.
Overall, the masses at the protest seem ready for police abolition and are looking for political guidance beyond the Democratic Party, which offers a lot of talk and fact finding but little change. I look forward to future involvement with these protests.