‘I can’t breathe’: Fifth day of protesting gets underway in DC following eventful Monday night

WASHINGTON – A large crowd gathered near the White House Tuesday evening as the 7 p.m. EST curfew went into effect a day after that area was cleared out by officers in dramatic form. 

Protesters returned to the area around the White House where on Monday law enforcement used projectiles, shields and horses to clear out a group of peaceful demonstrators to make way for President Donald Trump’s visit to a nearby church. There, he stood for a few moments, holding the Bible.  

Protesters speaking to USA TODAY on Tuesday said it was the previous day’s events that motivated them to take part today. 

More:‘I am outraged’: DC bishop denounces Trump’s church visit after police cleared protesters

Some said the number of people gathered was considerably larger than Monday at the same time.

Aubrey Thom, a 37-year-old Washingtonian, was standing near St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Trump had visited a day before. Thom was nearby at the same spot on Monday, when police cleared the park ahead of Trump’s visit.

Thom said he was stunned by what he saw.

“At no point were we aggressive,” Thom said, adding that protesters could have jumped the much smaller fencing around the park the day before but chose not to. “I just couldn’t believe that they came forward.”

Thom, who was quietly standing on the edge of the crowd in a black mask, predicted the protests would last for weeks, at least through the summer. Thom, who is black, said that he felt the relationship between the city’s African American community and the police is generally positive. But he said there are broader, national concerns driving residents to the park day after day.

“This generation just wants to be heard,” he said.

Reverend Lesley Krauland of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, Maryland, said she joined the protests to show support for the D.C. community and George Floyd and to stand with Bishop Mariann Budde, who on Monday criticized Trump for clearing out protesters before his walk to the church. 

Krauland told USA TODAY said she wanted to support the community “after what happened yesterday, with President Trump abusing his position, basically, using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a peaceful crowd of people who were peacefully expressing their rights.” 

Jeremiah Badgett, 11, and his family attended the protest from Waldorf, Maryland, after he convinced his parents they needed to be there “because of George Floyd.”

When asked what he hopes happens as a result of the protests, he said: “The police officer gets arrested.”

“He said, ‘Mommy, we cannot sit at home.’ He gave me the courage to come, and that says a lot. If he had his way, we’d be out here every day,” his mother Danielle Badgett said. 

Alistair Lamb, 30, was inclined to come out and protest anyway, but the clearing of the park on Monday pushed him over the edge. Standing near the Department of Veterans Affairs building with a huge sign that used an obscenity next to Trump’s name, Lamb said the events were “definitely part of the reason” he decided to head to the White House to protest Tuesday.

“Now he’s made a completely different issue, the right to protest,” Lamb said. “That was completely unacceptable.”

The challenge, Lamb said, was not letting the president’s made-for-TV moment in Lafayette Square distract from the underlying issues of racism and police use of force brought to the forefront again by the Floyd case. That’s why the other side of Lamb’s side dealt with police, not Trump.

“I’m here. I want change. History is going to be watching this,” said Lamb, who said his takeaway from the protest has been hopeful.

“This is the time. It’s 2020, man,” Lamb said. “It’s been an odd year.”

The demonstration comes after an eventful Monday night in the nation’s capital, where local police arrested more than 300 people — mostly for violating Washington’s 7 p.m. curfew — during protests over the death of George Floyd, the city’s police chief said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said his officers were not involved in dispersing protesters from Lafayette Park, the square across from the White House that was cleared before the curfew so Trump could walk to the historic St. John’s Church.

More:‘People will not forgive weakness’: Tucker Carlson blasts Trump for not being tough enough amid unrest

The decision to use chemical irritants, flash bangs and other methods to force peaceful protesters out of the park — so Trump could pose for a photo with a Bible — has sparked outrage from religious leaders and lawmakers in both parties. 

On Monday, Attorney General William Barr ordered an expansion of a security perimeter around Lafayette Square, setting the stage for an aggressive break-up of a peaceful protest in advance of Trump’s surprise church visit, a senior Justice Department official said Tuesday.

The source, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the decision to expand the perimeter was made Monday morning after protests scorched the area, and before it was known that Trump would walk to the church that evening.

The source said Barr was “surprised” that the security perimeter had not been expanded when he visited the area just before Trump’s scheduled speech at the White House. It was then, the source said, that Barr was informed of Trump’s plan to visit the church and ordered the area to be cleared of protesters. 

Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, Kevin Johnson

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