On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The Washington region saw another day of protests following the death of George Floyd, both near the White House and in surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia.
In the District, demonstrations began in the late afternoon and remained peaceful until federal forces unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets and mounted police to clear the streets around Lafayette Square Park.
WAMU reporter Daniella Cheslow joins us to discuss what she saw as the night unfolded.
Produced by Monna Kashfi
- Daniella Cheslow Politics reporter, WAMU; @Dacheslow
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde on President Trump at St. John's Episcopal Church and Dr. Leana Wen on mass demonstrations during this pandemic. But first, the D.C. region saw another day of protests yesterday both near the White House and in surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia. The protests in the District began in the late afternoon and remained peaceful until federal forces began to use tear gas, rubber bullets and mounted police to clear the streets around Lafayette Square. Joining me now is WAMU's Daniella Cheslow, who covered last night's protests in D.C. Daniella, thank you for joining us.
DANIELLA CHESLOWGood afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIDaniella, what was the scene like at Lafayette Square when you arrived there yesterday evening?
CHESLOWI got there at about 6:00 and it was calm. People were standing on top of public restroom in Lafayette Square that had been burned the night before. And people were adding to the graffiti that was scrawled on its ash and walls. Other people were selling masks that were printed with "I can't breathe." So it was a relaxed atmosphere, Kojo.
NNAMDISo what did you hear from protestors about why they were gathered there?
CHESLOWThe first thing all of them said was "Justice for George Floyd." They didn't feel like the police officers, who were involved in his death had gotten enough consequences. They also feared for their own safety if they were African American or some Latinos as well. If they were white the protestors said they were there in solidarity. And one 20 year old African American woman from Woodbridge, Virginia told me -- we were facing the White House and she told me, "I feel like our president has a negative mindset against minorities."
NNAMDIWhat level of law enforcement did you see at Lafayette Square and who were they, federal forces or D.C. police?
CHESLOWAll of the above. There were D.C. police. There were Park Police. There were National Guard. On the streets around people from the DEA. We also know there were U.S. Marshalls and people from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. So certainly a large variety.
NNAMDIMayor Bowser had declared a curfew for 7:00 p.m., but police started clearing the streets around Lafayette Square in the six o'clock hour. What happened?
CHESLOWYes. You saw a row of police take shape and they had shields and batons. And they were going north of Lafayette Square where that public bathroom I told you about was. There were mounted police as well, and they started pushing people north and firing gas. I found it hard to breathe although WTOP is reporting U.S. Park Police say they used smoke canisters not tear gas. At any rate people would run north and then there would be a lull. They would take chanting of "Say his name, George Floyd" and then take a knee. And people would be kneeling on the street. And then the next round would start with police saying, "Move back." And people would have to move back further and further away from the White House.
NNAMDIDaniella, shortly after what you described the president gave a speech in the Rose Garden vowing to use force to quell protests and violence across the nation. And then we quickly learned why the streets around the White House had been cleared before the curfew. Tell us about that.
CHESLOWWell, the White House released a promotional video showing exactly why. It shows the president passing a row of police in riot gear as he walks towards St. John's Episcopal Church. This is a church that had been burned the night before. The clergy were not notified he was coming and the president went to the church to take a picture with a Bible and he crossed the road that just a short while ago had been filled with demonstrators.
NNAMDII think we have a question about that from Dennis in Maryland. Dennis, I don't know if Dennis can hear me yet. No, Dennis is not ready yet, but he has a question about what prompted the use of tear gas. And I wanted to make sure that he heard your answer. Dennis, did that answer your question?
DENNISYeah, Kojo. Thanks. That did generally answer the question. It sounds like it was virtually impromptu, which is definitely concerning. I also had a follow up comment. So I guess first, yes, thanks for the answer. The following comment is I've been trying to find a place to peacefully protest. I'm active duty military and I'm allowed to exercise my first amendment right just not in uniform. And so I've been looking around on different sites for maybe something that would resemble a heat map to say these spots have generally progressed to violence. These have not. That sort of thing. And I haven't found anything anywhere. And I'm wondering, Kojo, if you could either point me in the right direction or maybe it's something NPR could take on because I just haven't seen it.
NNAMDII have not seen such a heat map. Have you, Daniella?
CHESLOWI have not, but it's an interesting comment you make, because I saw during the protest, you saw demonstrators appealing to the police saying, "Why are you in uniform?" Especially if it was an African American protestor and an African American officer, they'd say, "Why are you here? You should be on my side." And it's very interesting that this caller saying is perhaps he'd like to cross lines.
NNAMDIExactly, right. Once he doesn't do it in uniform, it's fine. But I'm sure before this day is over, Dennis, that we'll get some indication of where it might be a good place for you to protest if that's what you're looking to do today. Daniella, what was the scene like once the curfew started at 7:00 p.m. yesterday? Did the crowds disperse?
CHESLOWI saw activists get on megaphones and tell people, "Go home. Come back tomorrow. Go home so you'll be safe and come back tomorrow." And a lot of people did heed that call. But a few dozen stayed behind and police started arresting them. I saw they took -- the D.C. police I must say had a very personal touch. I saw one officer remove the earbuds from the ears of a detained man. Reach into that man's pocket, because his hands were in handcuffs behind him. The officer put the headphones in their case and returned them in the case to the man's pocket.
CHESLOWAnother group of demonstrators sat down in locked arms. And the police surrounded them and then walked them one by one to police vans. While this was going on on 16th and I, my colleague, Tyron Turner, spotted Attorney General Bill Barr walking the streets nearby and he seemed to be surveying the field.
NNAMDIHe wasn't part of the protests I don't think.
CHESLOWNo. Barr did not cross lines, Kojo.
NNAMDIDaniella, you followed a group of protestors as they moved toward Chinatown. What unfolded there?
CHESLOWThat's right. I found a group near Thomas Circle in Massachusetts Avenue. And they walked in near silence through the city and into Chinatown. We passed several broken store fronts including Legal Sea Foods at about 10:00 p.m. And then a helicopter, I'm not sure whose, hovered low whipping up dirt and broken glass. It's called a show of force. It felt other worldly. It was so loud. It was almost impossible to hear anyone and it was uncomfortable to remain in the streets. So the protestors kept moving and then helicopters would follow them. And when the crowds stopped a helicopter would kind of park right on top of them for a few minutes, leave. Another helicopter would come in. It felt like a game of cat and mouse.
NNAMDIThe old helicopter strategy, hey, not that I've ever heard about it before. I've heard about helicopters being used in that way before. Here now is Irene in Alexandria. Irene, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IRENEYes. Thank you. She's actually partially answered my question, which was there a type of announcement from the police force 30 minutes prior to seven o'clock to allow protesters to disperse. But I also have a second question and that is are protestors being asked about are they citizens of D.C. and so have they voted either absentee prior to today?
NNAMDIAsked by whom?
IRENEAsked by reporters. I've seen a lot of people asking the protestors, "Why are you here? What are you doing?" They want change, but no one follows up with, "Well, did you vote today? Are you a citizen of D.C.?" I mean, let's connect the protests to really making policy change.
NNAMDIToday is Election Day, but, Daniella, were any reporters asking protestors about their voting habits?
CHESLOWI was asking protestors where they were from and a lot of them were from the D.C. area. So some might be eligible to vote in D.C. Others coming in from Northern Virginia or parts of Maryland, obviously would not. And as to the other question if there was any warning, it's very difficult to tell when you're in the middle of this hubbub, "What's going on?" You could hear the police saying, "Move. Move." And occasionally you could hear police saying, "You have to leave." But if I'm struggling to hear it, I'd imagine the crowd is also struggling to hear it. I've been watching today to kind of see how that is shacking out and how the timeline is going, because it's something where it's hard to know until the day after and you start piecing together the different accounts what exactly was the timeline there.
NNAMDIDaniella, there were reports of looting and car fires around the city including in Columbia Heights. But things took a turn between police and protestors near Logan Circle at 15th and Swan streets. What happened there?
CHESLOWYes. So first of all regarding the looting I watched as protestors smashed the windows of the Teamsters Building late last night before police forced them away. And back to Swan Street in the Dupont area, law enforcement blocked in a group of demonstrators and they were kind of pinned in this narrow street. And then a resident opened his door and told the protestors to come inside. That was Rahul Dubey. He's a 44 year old Indian American. He told my colleague, Jacob Fenston, that police sprayed pepper spray right into his home. He guessed he had about 70 people in his house all night long sleeping, charging their phones and staying off the streets until curfew lifted at 6:00 a.m.
NNAMDIAnd what happened when the curfew lifted at 6:00 a.m.? Were they able to leave peacefully?
CHESLOWJacob told me they were able to leave peacefully in the morning. And Police Chief Peter Newsham confirmed at a press conference right before we came on air that none of the protestors, who took refuge in the house were arrested.
NNAMDIWhat did you hear from businesses owners whose businesses had been apparently targeted by rioters?
CHESLOWYeah. It's been a rough week for them. I went yesterday morning to a liquor store on Georgia Avenue and I saw a manager there, who told me that looters went into his store's basement and carried out boxes of Patron tequila. I also met a glass worker measuring plywood on 14th street to board up a furniture store. Those windows were shattered. And this glass worker is from D.C. He's in his 50s, an African American man. He said he supported the protests although he disagreed with the looting. Other business owners have been very overt in their support of Black Lives Matter. The owner of Teasism, an upscale tea shop, had her store looted over the weekend. And she tweeted, "Before anyone puts a single word in our mouths, Black Lives Matter."
CHESLOWStill you can smell there's kind of nervousness in the city and, I mean, smell. There's fresh plywood going up everywhere to protect windows. I'm seeing this not only near the White House, but also in Adams Morgan and other areas, because the movement has been unpredictable.
NNAMDIHere's James in D.C. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESKojo, thanks for having me, sir. It's an honor to be on your show. And I just wanted to say, I work in law enforcement. I'm a resident of the District. And I can't be more specific than that just, because I'm not allowed to speak publically from a position in my agency. I just wanted to say that there is that personal touch that a previous caller mentioned. Something that disasters such as these riots and what they bring to the forefront of the discourse, there is something there that I know every person that I work with in my agency was sensitive to that last night, even if we may not have been able to do certain things.
JAMESBut I also wanted to say as a call to action for progressives to not care only when a police officer has misconduct and it's splashed on the nightly news, but to address systemic racism. And I'm hearing that discourse more now than I did in previous in Freddie Grey in Baltimore.
JAMESAnd just wanted to say that I really think we need to look deeper at what the rest of society -- why can't the other side of the river help when times are tough?
NNAMDIOkay. Got to interrupt, because we're almost out of time. Daniella, you only have about 30 seconds. What's next? Did you get a sense from the people you spoke to last night that there will be more protests today? And are they talking about addressing systemic racism?
CHESLOWThat's on a lot of the signs that we see. And for sure I think that there's going to be more protestors tonight. There's already a protestor as we speak right now. Trump announced that he would visit the St. John Paul II National Shrine this morning. And protestors including Ed Garnett, a former ANC, said they'd be there. Mikaela Lefrak is on the scene right now. And I met a lot of protestors, Kojo, who told me it was their first night out yesterday, which gives me a sense that there is momentum going forward.
NNAMDIDaniella Cheslow is a Reporter in the WAMU newsroom. Daniella, thank you so much for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Bishop Mariann Budde. I am Kojo Nnamdi.
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