DC readies for Saturday protests as police chief says it may be ‘largest we’ve had in the city’
The nation’s capital is bracing for what could be its largest protest yet on Saturday since the death of George Floyd, expanding a massive fenced perimeter around the White House, even as they send home hundreds of active-duty troops who were stationed outside the city.
Over 10 days of protest, the border outside the White House has progressively been pushed back with extensive fencing and barricades. It now extends to the far outskirts of a park complex known as the Ellipse near the National Mall.
Law enforcement officials said they’d pushed the barrier back even further in anticipation of a major event on Saturday.
“We have a lot of public, open-source information to suggest that the event on this upcoming Saturday may be one of the largest that we’ve had in the city,” Peter Newsham, chief of police of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, said at a press conference on Thursday morning.
It was not clear how many would show up to Saturday’s demonstrations but #1MillionDCSaturday was trending on Twitter in a call for 1 million people to march on the capital in protest of police brutality.
U.S. Park Police told McClatchy DC it was using “intelligence to monitor upcoming events” but would not divulge details that could “pose a hazard to the public and police.”
At the same time, Mayor Muriel Bowser wants all non-D.C.troops out of the city. All 900 active duty military police brought to bases around Washington, D.C., following the civil unrest after Floyd’s death are heading home, the Department of Defense said Friday.
The troops were staging in the Washington, D.C., area at Maryland’s Andrews Air Force Base and Virginia’s Fort Belvoir as President Trump said he may use the military to help quell violence and looting.
Trump would have to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 in order to take such measures, as military involvement with domestic law enforcement is generally prohibited. The last time the Insurrection Act was used was in 1992 during the riots in Los Angeles that followed the acquittal of four police officers charged in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.
On Thursday, principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters that “all options are on the table” for the use of military forces to clamp down on American protesters.
Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters this week the president has the “sole authority” to invoke the act, after Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it wouldn’t be necessary at this time.
Esper said the nationwide protests — which have, in some cases, turned violent and led to property damage and looting — did not warrant the deployment of active-duty military.
“The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire situations,” Esper said Wednesday. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
The active-duty troops were available but were not used in response to the protests.
However, more than 4,500 National Guard troops are still deployed to D.C. and various federal law enforcement officers are also patrolling the city, which has drawn the ire of lawmakers and advocates who are concerned about the militarization of the city and what they consider overzealous policing of peaceful demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Bowser fought the president on the deployment of National Guard troops from different states to the city. She said she only requested the 100 D.C. National Guard troops to line the perimeter of the White House, in a limited role and unarmed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Trump Thursday asking for a full list of agencies involved and clarifications of the roles and responsibilities of the soldiers and federal law enforcement resources operating in the city. Democratic leaders were aghast by the use of force and chemical agents to clear a park Monday of peaceful demonstrators shortly before Trump left the White House for a photo op with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church, which had been damaged by fire.
“We are concerned about the increased militarization and lack of clarity that may increase chaos,” Pelosi’s letter said.