The chaos consuming the country came back to Donald Trump’s doorstep Sunday. A building near the White House grounds, the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, and an historic church were all set on fire as the nation’s capital was once again gripped by unrest after a day of largely peaceful protests against police brutality.
Earlier in the week, protesters tried repeatedly to breach barricades keeping them away from the White House, where Trump reportedly hunkered down in a bunker on Friday night. On Saturday, protesters pushed back from the area splintered off into downtown streets where storefronts were smashed in, retailers were looted, and the scaffolding on the Hay-Adams Hotel was set afire, along with at least three police vehicles. By daybreak, 17 people had been arrested and 11 police officers injured.
In the late afternoon, MSNBC reporter Garrett Haake had tweeted that “the mood is much less tense tense today.” Seven hours later, he was apparently hit by a rubber bullet as police tried to clear the area.
“Agh, shit!” he said on live TV.
As the city’s 11 p.m. curfew came into effect, aerial shots of Washington showed scattered fires blazing between iconic landmarks. Blasts, apparently from exploding cars, periodically shook the area.
It was the second night of havoc in Washington, more than 1,000 miles from where George Floyd took his last breath with a white policeman’s knee on his neck—setting off a wave of increasingly tumultuous demonstrations across the entire nation. On Saturday night, 17 people were arrested and 11 police officers were hurt as protesters, pushed back from the White House, splintered off into downtown streets where storefronts were smashed in, retailers were looted, and the scaffolding on the Hay-Adams Hotel was set afire, along with at least three police vehicles.
Fearing a replay, Mayor Muriel Bowser had called in the D.C. National Guard and, like many of her counterparts in other cities, set a curfew intended to get people off the streets before the dead of night.
The approach of the curfew instead became a demarcation line between some semblance of order and all-out mayhem.
Rondell Jordan, a 30-year-old lawyer, told The Daily Beast that he planned to leave by 11 p.m. “before the shit hits the fan.” Then it did.
A building at the north end of Lafayette Park that holds restrooms went up in flames. Firefighters put out a blaze in the basement of St. John’s Episcopal Church. A blaze roared in the lobby of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor union in the U.S. Protesters scrawled the anti-police slogan “FUCK 12” on the front of the building, smashed windows, and covered security cameras.
“Of all the buildings to attack…” one bystander said, adding that the protest “doesn’t seem to have any direction or focus. Everyone seems to be just going through the motions.”
After the curfew passed, police used pepper spray and other non-lethal weapons in their arsenal to push the crowds out of the park. A man hit with tear gas had milk poured on his eyes as he stood next to a car playing NWA tracks. In the distance stood the White House, shrouded in darkness, its exterior lights dimmed on a night that had taken a violent turn.