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Scenes From The ‘Autonomous Zone’ Outside The White House, After Protestors’ Failed Toppling Of Jackson Statue

Outside the White House Monday night, agitators lingered near the police line, using their proximity to verbally berate the officers.


WASHINGTON, D.C.—I arrived a little late and wondered if I left too early. By the time I made it to Lafayette Square, Andrew Jackson’s statue seemed safe, yet mounting tensions suggested there was more to come.

I ran from my apartment to the White House after seeing videos of the crowd’s attempt to topple Jackson, and got there just as they had been pushed back to 16th and H Street, an intersection that has seen little rest from demonstrations in the month since George Floyd’s killing. People were being treated for chemical irritants by the group’s medics.

Park police in riot gear blocked off Lafayette Square, holding a steady line on H. Demonstrators screamed obscenities in their faces. One man with a bullhorn shouted that he was going to “f-ck” a particular officer’s wife. A white man called a black officer a “traitor to his people.”

A few protesters stood in front of the police and blew marijuana smoke in their direction, saying they were blowing back a “gas” of their own. One man in a a bandana asked for whom I was reporting, promptly telling me I was not welcome upon hearing my answer.

Little was said about Donald Trump, although he was the subject of signs. Angry outbursts were directed more frequently at Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

A couple hundred protesters milled about in the humidity and drizzling rain, having established a “Black House Autonomous Zone” outside the vandalized St. John’s Episcopal Church, spray painting “BHAZ” on the historic columns, and pitching a small tent village around its perimeter. They hung homemade posters from street signs and trees. Tents were stocked with medical supplies.

The crowd was young, mostly people in their twenties and thirties, with many dressed in Antifa-like gear that suggested they came ready for a clash: goggles, helmets, full face masks. Speaking of face masks, with the pandemic ongoing, some demonstrators kept masks fastened over their mouths, but social distancing was impossible, and plenty of protestors were shouting loudly into the crowd.

Agitators lingered near the police line, using their proximity to verbally berate the officers. Black cops seemed to bear the brunt of the harassment, repeatedly being shamed for their career choice.

Some protestors asked each officer to identify him- or herself. At one point around 9:00 p.m., a scuffle flared up on H Street, sending the crowd (myself included) sprinting away from the police as a few loud pops could be heard at the scene of the conflict, although there appeared to be no major injuries.

A fire lit in the middle of H Street illuminated the group’s tactical disagreements. There seemed to be widespread agreement among the protesters that it should be put out. The flames were extinguished shortly after they were lit, with one man assuring police it had been taken care of.

Some protesters pleaded with others to stop throwing objects at police from the back of the group because it led to the people up front getting teargassed; others disputed that protesters were throwing anything. A rumor reached the front of the protest that demonstrators were telling on their overly aggressive peers. Seasoned veterans shouted that transgressors should be corrected, not exposed.

If any clashes broke out, the protest’s ostensible leaders wanted to make sure they could claim officers were in the wrong, lashing out disproportionately at supposedly peaceful demonstrators. It was a chaotic scene, but had an underlying sense of organization, suggesting the group is intentional and plans to keep the area formally dubbed “Black Lives Matter Plaza” occupied, setting the stage for more conflict right on the president’s doorstep.