Protesters gathered outside the White House on Saturday to direct their anger at President Trump after days of demonstrations over police brutality against Black individuals, including George Floyd.
The portion of 16th Street leading up to the White House, where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had imprinted in large yellow letters “Black Lives Matter,” was filled with demonstrators, including LGBTQ protesters expressing solidarity and anger over racism and police brutality.
Thomas Smith, a gay 40-year-old D.C. resident, said he came to the protest to “stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters of all races and ethnicities and backgrounds because of really horrifying things that have happened in this country over the past few weeks.”
Watching these events unfold, Smith said he was taken by “the horrifying nature of it all and that there’s a segment of this country who refuse to speak out and stand up for what’s right.”
The viral nine-minute video of Minneapolis police killing George Floyd — which ignited a firestorm of protests across not just in the United States, but across the globe — is but one incident in a series of incidents against Black Americans in recent days.
Others are the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia; the death of Breonna Taylor in a shooting with police in Louisville; a white woman in New York City calling the police on Christian Cooper, a black gay man who told her to obey the rules in Central Park and leash her dog.
Demonstrators before the White House held up signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Fire Bad Cops,” “Fuck Trump,” and “How Many Weren’t Filmed.” Visible among the messages were rainbow Pride signs as well as individuals wearing rainbow-themed clothing.
At several points during the demonstration, protesters took a knee in a symbolic stand against systemic racism, at one time amid chants of “I Can’t Breathe.”
One incident of violence not as high-profile is the killing of Tony McDade, a Black transgender man at the hands of police in Tallahassee this week.
At one point, a Black trans activist approached protesters to urge them to remember “All Black Lives Matter,” including the lives of transgender people and transgender kids.
“Kids, black men, black women,” the activist said. “You want to acknowledge us, too? We are standing right beside, ya’ll. And guess what? All Black lives matter.”
Much of the anger at the protests was directed at Trump, who has faced criticism for his administration’s response to incidents of police brutality, including the forcible removal of protesters from Lafayette Park on Monday just before Trump posed for a photo with a Bible before St. John’s Church.
Following the forcible expulsion of protesters on Monday, the area around the White House and Lafayette Park remained closed to demonstrators, who nonetheless affixed on the fencing in rainbow letters the messages, “Police-Free Schools” and “Defund MPD.”
One flyer distributed among protesters by RefuseFacism.org called for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to be #OutNow and denounced police killings of black people and a “fascist police state.”
“Trump has unleashed the U.S. military police and threatened to call out the military nationwide to crush the righteous George Floyd protests against police murder,” the flyer says. “An uprising has begun. Day after day, night after night, coast to coast, the streets fill with Black youth refusing to face another day in fear and people of all backgrounds who have had enough of white supremacy and a culture of soul-crushing cruelty.”
The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on President Trump’s message for the protesters. Trump at the White House on Friday spoke favorably about Floyd and imagined him “smiling down” on a “great day for equality,” although those comments were criticized for being tone-deaf.
Steve Taylor, a gay 35-year old D.C. resident, told the Blade on his way to the protest he hopes it would advance visibility for issues around racism and police brutality.
“I think a lot of people don’t truly understand that this is a problem that not just affects Black Americans, but it’s a police brutality problem, a problem with our society in general, and we need to change,” Taylor said. “It’s not just about electing certain people, but it’s about prioritizing the issues that they stand for.”