WASHINGTON, D.C.—There were two sounds outside the White House on Sunday afternoon, the sound of a peaceful protest, and the sound of riot repair. Demonstrators chanted against the backdrop of buzzing drills.
At 6:31 a.m., the Washington Post’s popular weather blog predicted the day would be a 10/10. “Now this is what spring is all about,” said the Capital Weather Gang. In Washington, meteorologists are often the media’s most accurate forecasters.
And so it was, Sunday’s demonstration, part of the nation’s ongoing reaction to the sickening death of George Floyd, unfolded amid the anticipated “springtime bliss,” drawing thousands to H Street NW, the closest Secret Service would allow anyone to the White House. Officers congregated beyond the barricades in Lafayette Park and on Pennsylvania Avenue, prepared in case anyone tried to move in. That would come later.
In the daylight, demonstrators gathered calmly, carrying cardboard signs, toting children, and chanting “Black lives matter!” Volunteers passed out water and snacks. As the protest grew, a white man outfitted in black pants and black boots strategized with his friend—they wanted to make sure everyone had a mask. That wasn’t much of an issue, most people were covered, although masks were the only reminder a pandemic had kept the city shut down since March.
The crowd was packed as densely as the entrance to Nats Park five minutes before game time. Many of the city’s white young professionals mingled with black protestors, young and old. In Washington, black patients accounted for 47 percent of COVID diagnoses and 80 percent of deaths as of May 6. Social distancing was all but impossible in the thick of the protest.
Police were everywhere, and the officers were mostly minorities, as were the men tending to the broken glass and graffiti. Repairmen went about their work almost like extras in a movie, drilling and hammering in the background, an afterthought. The cops kept streets closed to traffic, talked amongst themselves, and chatted calmly when engaged by protesters, guarding blocks tagged with phrases like “F-ck cops” and people carrying signs like “Defund the police.”
One sign depicted Colin Kaepernick kneeling. “Ready to listen now?” it asked. Others said, “Am I Next?” “I Can’t Breathe,” “F-ck White Supremacy,” and “Eat The Rich.” Someone had spray painted “R.I.P. George Floyd” onto the entrance to Joe’s Stone Crab, a popular destination for D.C. powerbrokers, and “F-ck Cops” onto the exterior of Capital Hilton. A window at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs had been shattered.
The historic Decatur House, one block from the White House, entered “a new and meaningful chapter” in its history, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and White House Historical Association. The structure functioned originally as slave quarters, and serves today as the Center for White House History. On Saturday night, vandals graffitied its exterior, writing, “F-ck the cops,” “George Floyd,” “You have blood on your hands,” “Capitalism is murder,” and, most prominently, “Why do we have to keep telling you black lives matter?” Protestors posed against the wall for pictures.
“The juxtaposition of history, place, and current events is poignant and powerful,” said the presidents of the National Trust and White House Historical Association in a statement, reflecting on the vandalism. Graffiti on the side of the Treasury building read, “I like my bacon crispy.”
What seemed like the calm after the storm turned out to be the calm before it. Springtime bliss followed day into night. Peace did not. Rioters repeated their looting and burning and smashing and tagging. After a night of wailing sirens, the sun rose on the month of June and on more beautiful weather, “another winner” of a day, as predicted by Capital Weather Gang. It’s like the city is stuck in a pattern of incongruity, beautiful weather and somber protests, a virus and dense crowds, peace and violence.