Police in Washington on Tuesday cleared the streets around the White House after protesters tried to set up an autonomous zone on Monday evening.
Some protesters had set up tents and food distribution areas near H Street and 16th Street, known as Black Lives Matter Plaza, near Lafayette Square. Riot police were seen telling protesters to leave while moving in a line.
The police were heard telling the demonstrators and occupiers to “move back, move back.”
— Charlotte Cuthbertson (@charlottecuthbo) June 23, 2020
Lafayette Square is located just north of the White House. On Monday evening, Black Lives Matter supporters unsuccessfully attempted to take down a statue of former President Andrew Jackson, located in the square.
Protesters set up makeshift barricades in the area and claimed that it is an “autonomous zone,” featuring makeshift structures and tents. “Black Lives Matter,” “defund the police,” and similar slogans were painted on signs.
“BHAZ: Black House Autonomous Zone” was spray-painted on plywood around H Street, while “BHAZ” was painted on the columns of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was vandalized earlier this month during George Floyd protests.
“BHAZ” appears to be in reference to the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” a so-called autonomous zone that was set up in Seattle’s Capitol Hill area. The area was formerly called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ.
Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt said in a statement that he was at the scene near the statue “where another so-called ‘peaceful protest’ led to destruction tonight,” adding that “we will not bow to anarchists.” He added, “Law and order will prevail, and justice will be served.”
The Andrew Jackson statue was “defaced by criminals who sought to topple the statue recognizing the seventh President of the United States,” noting that “law enforcement officers ensured that this would not happen,” Bernhardt said.
President Donald Trump on Monday warned that demonstrators who try to take down federally owned statues will face prison terms.
“I have authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent,” he wrote in a statement.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the president said law enforcement officers in Washington stopped the toppling of a “great monument,” referring to the Jackson statue. “We are looking at long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators and call them whatever you want. Some people don’t like that language, but that’s what they are. They’re bad people, they don’t love our country, and they’re not taking down our monuments,” he said.
Trump also vowed on Tuesday to squash any potential autonomous zones from being set up in Washington.
“There will never be an ‘Autonomous Zone’ in Washington, D.C., as long as I’m your President,” he wrote on Twitter. “If they try they will be met with serious force!”
Two shootings were reported in Seattle’s CHOP over the weekend, leaving at least one person dead. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday she would move to disperse CHOP following the weekend violence.