D.C. has been protesting for the last few days. We uncover how we got here and where to go.

D.C. has been protesting for the last few days. We uncover how we got here and where to go.

On Memorial Day, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis after police officer Devin Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. Floyd’s cries for breath, captured on video, became a rallying cry. The country watched as Minneapolis descended into riots, angry that black people are still dying at the hands of police. In D.C., for several nights in a row, protesters have thronged the area around the White House. Most of the demonstrators are peaceful. Some have turned violent.

The backdrop to the protests is a pandemic during which the relationship between black D.C. residents and the Metropolitan Police Department has eroded. Officers’ new power, to arrest those who fail to heed social distancing mandates, has caused tension between D.C.’s black community and police. Many residents say officers are not wearing required personal protective equipment while interacting with the public. These actions are perceived by D.C.’s black community as new additions to a list of grievances against the MPD.

Today we look at escalating friction between the MPD and the District’s African American community and activists. How did it get to this point? How might it get better?

Produced by Richard Cunningham

Guests

  • April Goggans Core Organizer, DC Chapter of Black Lives Matter @DMVBlackLives
  • Natacia Knapper Field Organizer, ACLU DC; @ACLU_DC
  • Debbie Truong Education Reporter, WAMU; @debbietruong

Transcript

  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast award-winning young adult author Jason Reynolds joins "Kojo for Kids" to talk about racism and the protests. But first one week ago George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who was caught on video leaning on Floyd's neck. George Floyd's name has been added to a long list of black people who have died from police actions.

  • 12:00:30

    KOJO NNAMDIEvery night since, the City of Minneapolis has erupted into protests that quickly spread to other major cities across the country. This weekend protestors took to the streets of Washington D.C. and the protests became violent after dark. Black residents in the District have often had a difficult relationship with the Metropolitan Police Department. Those strains have only been heightened recently. Joining us to talk about this is Debbie Truong. She is a Reporter for WAMU. Debbie, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:59

    DEBBIE TRUONGThank you for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:01:00

    NNAMDIDebbie, D.C. saw three says of protests beginning Friday night to mourn the death of George Floyd and others lost to police brutally. How big were the crowds at these protests?

  • 12:01:11

    TRUONGYeah. So I think it's safe to say that thousands of people participated in some form of protest this weekend either by marching through the city streets, gathering in front of the White House in Lafayette Square or participating in the caravan that was organized by Black Lives Matter D.C.

  • 12:01:32

    NNAMDIYou and our other WAMU reporters covered the protests throughout the weekend. What did you hear from the people who were there? What reasons did they give for participating?

  • 12:01:43

    TRUONGYeah, I mean, I think, you know, I heard from people anger, frustration, hurt. You know, they want to call attention to police brutality and they want black people to stop dying in police custody. You know, I've talked to several folks who recognized the risks that they were taking by going out in the middle of a public health crisis. But they said that they felt that it was important enough for them to go out and really sort of take a stand. You know, I talked with one young woman last night who said that, you know, she was prepared for police to use rubber bullets or tear gas, but that she has planned to stay into the night.

  • 12:02:34

    NNAMDIThere have also been acts of vandalism including fires and looting. How widespread has that been?

  • 12:02:39

    TRUONGYeah. So I covered the protests on Friday night and Sunday night and I think most of the violence and the vandalism has happened late at night around nine or ten o'clock. I think last night we saw several fires set intentionally set throughout the city. The D.C. Fire Department said it put out fires in the lobby of the AFL-CIO, which is the country's largest federation of labor unions and in the basement of St. John's Church. There was also looting in -- or smashed windows and break-ins in different parts of the city including in Friendship Heights and Tenleytown.

  • 12:03:28

    NNAMDIDebbie, what has the mayor's response been to the protests?

  • 12:03:32

    TRUONGSure. The mayor has said that, you know, she empathizes with the anger and the outrage that protestors are feeling and expressing, but that she also doesn't want to see the city destroyed. She activated the National Guard on two nights and imposed a curfew yesterday night at 11:00 p.m. She just imposed another curfew tonight for 7:00 p.m. and that's supposed to last two days.

  • 12:03:59

    NNAMDISo that means tonight and tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m.

  • 12:04:02

    TRUONGCorrect.

  • 12:04:03

    NNAMDIBecause I wanted to make sure there's a distinction between lasting two days going from 7:00 p.m. tonight until Wednesday, but I guess tomorrow during the day people can come out again.

  • 12:04:16

    TRUONGThat is my understanding.

  • 12:04:17

    NNAMDIThere were clashes between police and protestors especially after dark. Do we have a sense, Debbie, if whether these confrontations were with MPD or federal forces, who mainly made up the police lines in Lafayette Park and around the White House?

  • 12:04:32

    TRUONGYeah. So I saw Metropolitan Police Department officers blocking off the streets surrounding the White House. You know, at Lafayette Square, police who were sort of facing protestors in a standoff on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights were made up of Park Police and Secret Service as far as I could see. And, you know, periodically there would be some shoving between police and some protestors. And when a protestor would, you know, throw a water bottle at police officers they would respond by using tear gas or firing non-lethal rounds.

  • 12:05:18

    NNAMDIWhat do we know about the number of arrests that were made last night? And were there any serious injuries?

  • 12:05:25

    TRUONGSure. I've heard earlier this morning that there were about 88 arrests made in the city last night and I think we're checking in our injuries.

  • 12:05:39

    NNAMDIJoining us now is April Goggans, Core Organizer for D.C.'s Chapter of Black Lives Matter. April Goggans, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:05:47

    APRIL GOGGANSThanks. Glad to be here.

  • 12:05:49

    NNAMDIApril, Black Lives Matter D.C. organized a car caravan protest on Saturday and a march yesterday afternoon. Both of which remained peaceful. What is your reaction to the turn that the protests took both days once they stretched into the night?

  • 12:06:03

    GOGGANSYes. So one thing I want to be clear is that people understand that there's BLM, as in the global network of which there are a chapters of which we are a part of. And then there's BLM that's movement, which is literally a call of reminding people that Black Lives Matter, which anybody can use. The only thing that our chapter has actually organized is the caravan. And that was Saturday. Though we definitely support folks getting out and protesting in the ways that they feel led to do. We're not going to police anybody's protest. You know, we fight back against this narrative of, you know, peaceful versus violent. I mean, the fact of the matter is that we come with our anger, but police come with guns and batons.

  • 12:06:52

    GOGGANSAnd that ultimately any type of protest descent is inherently violent. And that it benefits some people to call it violent and it benefits the same people to call them peaceful, right? That the fact that black people don't get to live in a peaceful world. There's no part of being black outside of, you know, expressing black joy amongst ourselves that is peaceful. And so, you know, that dichotomy allows people to continue to not take serious the real anger and rage that folks are feeling. And it also allows people like Peter Newsham in the first press conference to pose us as somehow being docile and, you know, surrendering to this peaceful narrative, because we did a caravan. But the fact of the matter is that what we showed is that at least 600 people could get in their cars and show up for -- in defense of black life.

  • 12:07:53

    NNAMDIHow would you describe the relationship between D.C.'s black residents and the Metropolitan Police Department?

  • 12:08:01

    GOGGANSI would say that it is dangerous and highly invisible. And I would say that, you know, most of the people -- and we have a lot of new people to D.C. there still is two D.C.s. And I feel like people don't necessarily do their research on the Metropolitan Police Department. That they are just as brutal and have just as much misconduct as all these other cities that we're talking about. And that people have been murdered by MPD in the last two years.

  • 12:08:34

    GOGGANSThat both Muriel Bowser and Peter Newsham have been completely silent on saying nothing about their deaths, saying nothing to their families. And, you know, surveilling us and taking that stuff out on protestors and organizers, but little is ever said on a national scale as to what that is. So what you see are paramilitary jump outs by the NSID every day in D.C.

  • 12:09:01

    NNAMDIWhat's the NSID?

  • 12:09:02

    GOGGANSSorry about that. That's Narcotics and Special Investigations Division, used to be VICE. People know about that, who still jump out on people. You can look at the ACLU D.C. website to find out specifics around stop and frisk and just the levels of stop and frisk that happened that are, you know, there are no probably cause for. And the prevalence of these stop and frisk becoming basically sexual assaults where they are doing these stop and frisks inside folks' cavities through their clothes, which is both unconstitutional and criminal. And so what you have is people who are angry. They've been angry. This is not new. This is not new because what you have is the same. There have been videos over the last two weeks of people defending themselves.

  • 12:09:55

    GOGGANSWe've been to some of these scenes and what you see is literally the police, MPD, the same group of police literally pulling up every day and squaring up with folks, calling them by their names, getting in their face so that they will escalate. And then calling in for backup and saying things like, "There's a unruly crowd. Police are being attacked by people." But when you look at the people's videos that's not true. And then you have a mayor, who does not allow video of policemen's conduct to ever get out despite her saying we have the best, you know, program for releasing police video.

  • 12:10:29

    NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt, because we only have about minute left in this segment. But there are incidents where people have tried to set fire in the lobby of the AFL-CIO where people have been throwing bottles into show windows of stores where stores like (word?) were burned. What do you say about those incidents?

  • 12:10:47

    GOGGANSYeah. I'm just not concerned about buildings right now. Like I feel like that's a distraction. When I'm talking to the parents of Dequan Young or Jeffrey Price, Rafael Briscoe here in D.C., who are still grieving the death of people, the destruction of bodies. I just I don't. To me, it's but -- certain people have decided to do. I'm just not concerned with that at all. I feel like people are that outraged. And I feel like the people, who are more concerned about these buildings have forgotten the entire point of this. And that people who are -- however you feel about property destruction does not diminish the righteous rage and anger and feeling of powerlessness over our own lives. It doesn't diminish that in any way.

  • 12:11:39

    NNAMDIBut I do know activists, who have been stepping out to protect black bookstores and other black small businesses that they felt were threatened. We're going to have to take a short break. When we come back we will continue this conversation. If you'd like to join it, give us a call 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. If you've called stay on line. We will get to your calls. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:21

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the protests over the killing of George Floyd and other black men by police. And those protests taking place in the Washington area. Joining us now is Natacia Knapper, Field Organizer for ACLU of the District of Columbia. What was your reaction to the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis?

  • 12:12:39

    NATACIA KNAPPERYou know, as a person living in America who is black, obviously, it was a very painful thing to see unfold, but obviously it's not something that surprising to me. You know, this is something that like we have already as a nation been through like countless times. And, you know, being an organizer in this city in D.C. with a police department that terrorizes and acts with impunity in many of the black communities, you know, that I do my organizing in. It's never surprising to me unfortunately when these awful murders happen.

  • 12:13:33

    NATACIA KNAPPERBut, you know, I think we have definitely reached a point where it's very clear that people, black people in particular, America as a whole is just at a breaking point. And it's had enough and, you know, this is always going to happen, right? With enough anger and I'm -- it's been painful to watch. But also it's been incredible to see people really kind of put their voices out there in a way that I think is like really critical in this moment.

  • 12:14:17

    NNAMDIHere's Robert Brannum in Ward 5. Robert Brannum, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:14:21

    ROBERT BRANNUMThank you for allowing me to express my view. I'm a commissioner in Ward 5. I grew up in this town. I've mentored young black people. I taught young black people, you know. And I've had my issues with police. But I'm going to push back on this narrative. First of all I'm going to say that my condolences and go out to the family of Mr. Floyd. No one supports police brutality anywhere, but I think the narrative that's being put on from the protests and is just -- it's misinformation. And that --

  • 12:15:09

    NNAMDIOkay, we don't have a lot of time. You're going to have to get to the point. What is the specific misinformation you're referring to?

  • 12:15:15

    ROBERT BRANAMI was there Friday the issue was not MPD. It was Secret Service. And the Black Lives Matter D.C., which I have given money to, and also the ACLU D.C. do not speak for all of Washington. Let's get that clear. They don't go out into the community --

  • 12:15:37

    NNAMDIOkay. That's fine. That's fine. I don't think they're claiming to speak for all of Washington. But what I'd like you to get to Mr. Brannum and you're well-known here. You've run for office on several occasions. But what is the specific misinformation that they are spreading?

  • 12:15:50

    BRANAMMisinformation is that there is no relationship between the black community and MPD. That is false. That's false.

  • 12:16:06

    NNAMDIOkay. Okay. Okay. They're not saying there is no relationship between the black community and the MPD. They're talking specifically about the relationship that is strained between elements and certainly strong elements in the African American community and police. And here is now one example. April Goggans, there was already tension between D.C.'s black residents and the Metropolitan Police Department. The coronavirus pandemic has heightened that tension. What do you see as the situation regarding MPD and PPE or personal protection equipment?

  • 12:16:42

    GOGGANSAbsolutely. So we've been documenting for that last three weeks MPD without PPE and officers tell us that they don't need to have it. While, you know, Peter Newsham was on a call with the Anacostia Coordinating Council last week and confirmed with them that they are required to use it. And to be honest, some of the information that we're allowed to get is because we live in D.C. We have native Washingtonians that are a part of BLM. We're actually in the street every day, because we do mutual aid and we also work around community violence.

  • 12:17:18

    GOGGANSSo these are our communities as well. And so we want to see them, you know, we make deliveries of food with our partners here, a part of mutual aid, because we want people to be safe in the time of COVID. And I think that we are extra vigilant about the ways that we go about making sure that people, who can't be on the streets have ways to also to express their anger as well as be able to contribute. And some of that is with providing PPE, which we also have been passing out at the protests.

  • 12:17:51

    NNAMDIOkay. We got a statement from the Metropolitan Police Department, who we invited to be a part of this discussion. The declined. But they did provide this statement. This is the statement. "MPD has issued PPE to our force to assist in the safety and wellbeing of our officers in the community, which we serve. Our members wear their PPE when they're interacting with individuals who have tested positive for the virus or who may be displaying flu-like or COVID-19 symptoms. MPD's on duty mask requirements have always mirrored the mayor's stay-at-home order. MPD continues to do our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our city including encouraging and educating the public on wearing masks and adhering to the mayor's orders."

  • 12:18:34

    NNAMDIThat's the entire statement. Obviously there was no specific response to the charges that you make, April Goggans, about them showing up around people who have not tested positive or without COVID-19 and not wearing PPE. But Natacia Knapper, D.C.'s ALCU has been tracking this issue as well. Which neighborhoods are these officers usually not wearing the equipment in and when did you start go get these reports?

  • 12:18:59

    KNAPPERRight. So I would say both and April I think kind of like in sync have also been collecting stories, pictures, videos and things like that of officers who have not been social distancing appropriately nor wearing the appropriate PPE per the mayor's stay-at-home order. I would say the bulk of these reports I've been seeing and, you know, I'd be interested in kind of hearing April's perspective. For me, a lot of them have been east of the river, a lot in Ward 7. And then also quite a few reports along Georgia Avenue in the Ward 1 kind of Ward 4 border kind of like the Parkview community where has just been like a lot of police activity since the stay-at-home order.

  • 12:19:58

    NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to interrupt because we don't have a lot of time, but what actions is D.C.'s ACLU taking about this. What are their next steps?

  • 12:20:06

    KNAPPERRight. So I think like right now we need to think about the D.C. budget. That's really one of the big focuses that we have. And like also figuring out like who are the correct messengers in the community to be creating education and providing PPE and things like that to community members. We do not feel that MPD is the right messenger to be engaging with community at all in terms of enforcement around social distancing. I think, you know, given like the historical context of the relationship between the black community and, you know, policing that that is like incredibly fraught, and is just, you know, going to lead to a lot of violent interactions.

  • 12:21:04

    NNAMDIOkay. As I said, we're running out of time very quickly. So I need to get Debbie Truong back to ask, Debbie, do you have a sense of what we can expect tonight? Have any protests been announced for this evening?

  • 12:21:14

    TRUONGYeah, I mean, I think that's a really, you know, hard question to answer this early in the day. Mayor Bowser did say that her -- that city officials are preparing for days of protests including possibly tonight. The curfew is in place for 7:00 p.m. But as we saw last night people stayed out well after that.

  • 12:21:37

    NNAMDIApril Goggans, in the 30 seconds we have left, do you think there are going to be protests tonight?

  • 12:21:42

    GOGGANSAbsolutely. Black people haven't stopped being murdered yet, so yes.

  • 12:21:45

    NNAMDIAnd same to you, Natacia Knapper.

  • 12:21:49

    KNAPPERAbsolutely. It's going to keep going.

  • 12:21:53

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Debbie Truong, April Goggans, Natacia Knapper, thank you all for joining us. We're going to be taking a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with award-winning young adult author Jason Reynolds on "Kojo for Kids" talking about racism and protests. Remember, adults can listen, but only kids can call. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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