The following narrative and slideshow present the progression of anti-racism demonstrations in Washington, DC, from June through September, 2020.
You almost certainly have not heard the whole story about what has followed the initial protests in Washington, DC, after the killing of George Floyd. There's no conspiracy to keep the "real story" secret - the media just aren't giving it much attention.
I have not been at every single protest, but I have been to multiple protests each week. I began photographing the protests since their outset, and this is what I have seen.
Lafayette Square park has been the site of countless demonstrations over the decades, so it was the natural place for people to congregate to protest the system that allowed George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer. The park lies adjacent to the White House grounds. It is bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue on the south side, and H Street NW on the north side. The street mural that accompanied the designation of Black Lives Matter Plaza extended two blocks north of Lafayette Park and became a focal point for protest, as the park was closed much of the summer. However, after the formation of many social justice organizations, the number of protests and marches proliferated rapidly. Other demonstration sites include the Capitol, Freedom Plaza, DuPont Circle, police stations, and a multitude of march routes throughout the northwest quadrant of the city.
Peaceful protests don't sell print, broadcast, or online ads, so it's no wonder why the demonstrations in Washington have gone largely unreported. While much of the country focused on unrest in Portland, Oregon, among other cities, peaceful protests took place in Washington for over 100 consecutive days, with weekends often featuring 6-10 separate demonstrations as many social justice organizations came into being. Thousands of protesters marched through the sweltering July (hottest on record in DC) and August heat, and still continue to demonstrate.
Over the summer, the protests morphed from venting outrage against the system in general, to targeted, well-articulated anger aimed at change. As mentioned, many social justice organizations were born, some dedicated to protests against police brutality, others to community healing and building, and still others to direct action. In most cases, these organizations engaged in all three, building strong entities capable of providing supplies through mutual aid, especially for those affected by covid-19 and/or the economic downturn; producing large demonstrations that get attention, even if not from mass media; and providing for the city's growing unhoused population. These are just a few examples of the tremendous work that has been done. Unfortunately, the details of all of these efforts are far too numerous to discuss here. By September, organizations were holding panels about how to advance change on many fronts, meeting with members of the DC Council, registering citizens to vote, and still protesting in the streets.
This is clearly a movement that is here to stay.
The U.S. Park Police, Secret Service, and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD - DC's department) chose to respond to protests against police brutality with more brutality. The nation and the world saw it live on television on June 1, but most people are unaware that MPD continues to use the same tactics.
From June 2 to the present, there has not been no protester-initiated violence, and only two instances of vandalism (a damaged newspaper box and a cracked window). On several occasions, peaceful protests have been met by riot squads. This occurred most recently on August 29, August 30, and September 23. On the last occasion, bicycle police following the protest suddenly began riding into the crowd of protesters from behind (this happens often), then dropped back. They repeated this two more times, yet protesters did not respond in kind. Their plans became apparent when riot squads appeared a few blocks later: MPD officers were trying to provoke resistance, which would be put down by the riot squads. Instead, the police in riot gear and body armor blocked a street for a few minutes after the protest had passed (this is the last photo in the slideshow below).
Police have also "kettled" protesters on a few occasions. To kettle a group, police surround all sides, block off all exits, and arrest everyone inside the proscribed area. In theory, police are supposed to repeat clear, audible instructions to disperse prior to arresting anyone. In practice, they often don't. In one particularly egregious example, on August 14, police kettled and arrested 42 protesters on the charge of felony rioting, to be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office for DC, who dropped the charges against 41 of them.
While only a handful of concerted efforts to use significant force against protesters or arrest them en masse have taken place, demonstrators are constantly heckled and targeted by officers on bikes. On two occasions, I have been physically targeted by police on bikes, but was able to dive away.
Let me say that again: as a member of the press, I have to worry about police targeting me with the intent to cause major injury.
Most often, police officers ride their bikes through the groups of protesters, and generally harass them. At times, police have engaged in serious sexual harassment of female protesters.
After more than four months of protests, MPD continues to respond to demonstrations against police brutality with more brutality.
December, 2020, quick update: anti-racism, women's rights, and anti-fascism protests remain separate, but deeply intertwined. It is impossible to talk about one of these three areas without discussing the others.
Narrative and photo gallery to be updated fully in late January, 2021.
Copyright © 2021 Allison Bailey Photography - All Rights Reserved.