Saturday, May 15, 2021
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Protesters block entrances to inauguration, set fires, vandalize

WASHINGTON – Protesters made themselves heard in the nation’s capital Friday, leaving shattered property along some city blocks and disrupting security checkpoints to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, where they slowed crowds from entering onto the National Mall and, in at least one spot, stopped them completely.

As people poured into the city to watch Trump sworn in as the 45th president, they encountered protesters across the area throughout the day. Many of the demonstrations were nonviolent, with people holding signs that spoke to their causes and concern. One protest even took on a carnival atmosphere, with puppets, stilt walkers and a giant inflatable elephant wearing a sign that read “racism.” But other groups tried to disrupt the day’s events by burning flags, throwing bricks and rioting en masse, leading to injuries and nearly 100 arrests by early afternoon.

Six people intent on interrupting the presidential swearing-in ceremony even made it into the closest section of seats to Trump. They wore shirts that spelled out “R-E-S-I-S-T” and got up and started shouting “We the people!” as Trump took the oath of office at noon. As authorities removed them from the area, they raised their fists and shouted “USA! USA!” One woman yelled, “We’re for an America for all of us.”

Some in the crowd responded with taunts: “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, good bye.”

After the swearing in, protesters arrived at the Franklin Square area and clashed with police. The protesters were throwing rocks, bricks and chunks of concrete and taking newspaper boxes and barriers and putting them on the streets. Meanwhile police used a flurry of flash-bang grenades and chemical spray to hold the protesters back, pushing them block-by-block west along K Street, from 12th Street toward 14th Street.

Trump supporters and protesters clashed throughout the day at several locations, and it sometimes turned violent. One officer was slightly injured when he was struck by an object thrown during a protest along the K Street corridor, said Doug Buchanan, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Authorities said two other officers were injured, one by pepper spray and another falling off a bicycle.

D.C. Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham said officers have arrested more than 90 people in connection with protests that turned violent on Friday and caused “significant damage to a number of blocks in our city.”

He said a “a very small percentage” of the thousands who came to demonstrate the inauguration resorted to violence. Newsham said demonstrators threw rocks and overturned trash cans, and broke windows at a bank, several shops including a Starbucks and an Au Bon Pain, and shattered car windows. Police said those arrested were charged with rioting.

“It’s disappointing that it had to happen,” Newsham said, praising how officers responded. “We knew this was going to be a long day. . . . Anyone who thinks they can come here and break the law, we will take them into custody.”

It was just before 10:30 a.m. when a large group of black-clad protesters – self-described as anti-capitalist and antifascist – made their way south on 13th Street near K Street, throwing newspaper boxes and garbage cans into the street and trying to set them on fire, leaving them smoldering. They also broke glass at bus stops and businesses and smashed the windows of a limousine. Loud bangs sounded out from fireworks they lit.

Some carried signs, including one that read: “No peaceful transition.” Police cleaned up behind them as they marched, and authorities used chemical spray in an attempt to disrupt the vandalism. They ultimately herded the group away from the inauguration parade route with a large number of police vehicles and officers in riot gear, and they used concussion grenades – which make a loud noise – to break up the crowd.

At least one bystander, a middle-aged man, was injured when the grenades went off; he was hit in the head, which was cut and bleeding.

Another man, Robert Hrifko, 62, who rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle up from St. Augustine, Fla., to join the Bikers for Trump group, approached several firemen and asked: “Do you think I need stitches?”

A welt on his cheekbone dribbled blood. He said a man hit him with rock after he tackled a protester who was attempting to throw an aluminum chair at a police officer.

“Bam – just waylaid me,” he said. The firemen offered him a Band-Aid and said he would be all right. “Good, I ain’t got insurance anymore, because I can’t afford Obamacare.”

Protesters jammed city streets and also aimed to jam checkpoints to the inauguration, at times successfully.

“Shut it down!” protesters shouted at the checkpoint at John Marshall Park early Friday morning. There, five black men stood at the front of the crowd, chained together, blocking the path.

Hailing from different parts of the country, the men were protesting on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement. As they stood together, they shouted that by demonstrating, “all we have to lose is our chains.”

Police began redirecting people to other entrances at about 8:30 a.m. As protesters there shouted, “This is what democracy looks like,” a Trump supporter countered. He pointed to the other side of the fence and said, “This is what democracy looks like, but I can’t get to it because of you!”

Michael Henning came from Dalton, Ohio, to see the events on the Mall and expressed frustration with how police handled the situation.

“We drove 20 hours, and now we can’t get in,” Henning said. “Everyone should have just brought guns and had it out, I’d be happy if they just dropped a bomb on them.”

One protester was arrested after sprinting up 13th Street and taunting a small group of officers chasing him. As he passed a D.C. fire station, cheers could be heard behind the glass of the garage doors: “Get him! Get him!” When a young man in a hoodie – apparently an undercover police officer – bolted from the side and brought the protester down on the sidewalk with a flying tackle, a cheer arose from inside the station.

“I’m not resisting, I’m not resisting,” the protester said from beneath a pile of three officers. “How are you all doing today?” he said, just before being helped to his feet, his hand in restraints.

It is unclear how many protesters descended on the nation’s capital for the inauguration, but law enforcement officials were bracing for more than 60 demonstration groups, both in support of and against Trump. About two dozen groups have received permits for specific gathering spaces for Friday and Saturday, when the Women’s March will take over the streets. According to their permit requests, some of those groups Friday were anticipating as few as 20 participants; others were planning for tens of thousands.

In the days leading up to the inauguration, protests started with one group shutting down K Street in downtown Washington and gay rights advocates holding a dance party near the temporary home of Vice President-elect Mike Pence in Chevy Chase, complete with biodegradable glitter and the hashtags #WeAreQueer #WeAreHere #WeWillDance.

Thursday night, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the National Press Club in downtown Washington, where the “DeploraBall” was being held. They shouted obscenities and insults such as “racist” and Nazi” at those attending the celebratory ball on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, and at one point someone threw an object that hit a counter protester in the head. Officers directed chemical spray at the crowd multiple times after protesters began throwing trash at Trump supporters who were leaving the building.

Many protesters participated in nonviolent demonstrations Friday. One man brought three llamas named Shay, Tragically Cute, and Thaddeus from a farm in Lancaster, Pa. Other groups protested silently, letting their signs speak for them.

“I just wanted my voice to be heard,” said Sharae Cloak, who stood quietly with two friends. “It’s a sad day in America, in the world. I didn’t want to be one of those people who complains and sits at home.”

But at least one organization had vowed to try to shut down the city. Organized under activist collective Disrupt J20, that group arranged to have different organizations gather at each of the dozen checkpoints that inauguration ticket holders had to pass through to view the ceremony. Each aimed to speak to a different cause, organized under names that include: Future is Feminist, Movement for Black Lives, Standing Rock for Native Lives, Economic Justice and Communities under Attack.

At one checkpoint, a group of LBGT protesters held a banner that read: “Out of the Closet. Into the Streets” and danced along to Abba and Madonna. They blew whistles and horns and filled the wet pavement with blue and purple glitter.

“We are here as a celebration of all the rights we have achieved as a movement and to stand up for ourselves,” said Mike Mcvicker-Weaver, 40, an HIV health care worker from Baltimore.

At a checkpoint near 10th and E streets, a group of women early in the morning tied themselves together with purple yarn and sat down, blocking people from passing.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho! Donald Trump has to go!” the group of about 100 mostly young protesters said. “End white supremacy!”

Clashes broke out at the location throughout the morning, and the line appeared at a standstill less than an hour before Trump was expected to take the oath of office.

Disrupt J20 describes its plans online as “a series of massive direct actions that will shut down the Inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations – the Inaugural parade, the Inaugural balls, you name it. We’re also planning to paralyze the city itself, using blockades and marches to stop traffic and even public transit.”

The group, which expected more than 30,000 participants, planned to gather in the afternoon at McPherson Square, where a stage and sound system would feature a series of speakers, including activist Michael Moore.

Not all of the demonstrations on Friday were anti-Trump. Among those groups that requested permits for space were two organizations that support him: Bikers for Trump and Let America Hear Us, Roar for Trump.

The latter shared Dupont Circle with a group that did not request a permit but set up there early Friday – DCMJ, which was formerly known as the D.C. Cannabis Campaign and was behind the successful effort to legalize marijuana in the District in 2015.

The group, which started rolling joints this month, plans to hand out 4,200 before marching to the Mall. Once there, those who get through the security checkpoints – a problem because it is illegal to possess marijuana on federal land, which includes the Mall – plan to light up four minutes and 20 seconds into Trump’s speech.

A 40-year-old pot grower named Josh stood near Dupont Circle Friday morning, controlling the line, which stretched up Massachusetts Avenue. He said he had donated a half-pound of his own weed for the giveaway.

“I’d appreciate it if you don’t do any illegal here,” Josh told the crowd. “If you want to do something illegal, take it down the block.”

Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of DCMJ, said the demonstration is not a protest of Trump but a signal of wanting to work with him on fully legalizing cannabis in all 50 states and the District.

“This is about demonstrating to Trump that he has the power to change the law and do what Obama was not able to do,” Schiller said. “We believe cannabis legalization will create jobs, it will increase tax revenue, and it will also help fix the broken criminal justice” system.

As for the bikers they will be sharing space with Friday, he said, “We hope some come on over and get a free joint.”

Another organization, the ANSWER Coalition, planned to host a large gathering at the U.S. Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Ben Becker of ANSWER said that more than 45,000 people indicated through social media an interest in joining the group’s protest near the U.S. Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue. The group, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, had a 28-foot stage and large sound system set up there and plans to showcase speakers and performers throughout the morning and afternoon.

“We’re considering it the counterinauguration,” Becker, 33, said. “The main message is that there is going to be a grass-roots movement of resistance to the Trump agenda from Day One of his presidency.”

The group had thousands of signs ready to hand out. Among them: “Say no to racism,” “Stop the Trump Agenda” and “Inaugurate the Resistance.”

Becker said his hope for the day, regardless of how many people show up, is that they leave feeling confident in their ability to stand up, fight back and organize.

“It’s not a one-day event,” he said. “We’re calling it Day One of a larger resistance movement.”

Video: A group of protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement shut down an inauguration entrance checkpoint at John Marshall Park in downtown Washington. (The Washington Post)


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