Protests have begun in Washington, District of Columbia, on Saturday as authorities brace for what is expected to be one of the biggest demonstrations the city has ever seen, fueled by the police custody death of George Floyd.
Floyd died in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, after a police officer restrained him with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes as he gasped for air and said, “I can’t breathe.”
Military vehicles and officers in fatigues closed off much of downtown Washington to traffic ahead of what authorities expect to be a massive demonstration.
“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,” Washington Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters on Thursday, according to WTOP.
The blocks inside the perimeter surrounding the White House were calm on Saturday morning, with joggers and cyclists taking advantage of the open streets before the daytime temperature rises.
Some people were preparing supplies for protesters, including water bottles and granola bars. Images shared on social media showed people arriving on the scene, displaying messages like “I can’t breathe” and “Racism is a pandemic” on signs and t-shirts.
Another photo showed someone holding a placard saying: “To those who keep asking what we want: to be seen, to be heard, to be respected, to matter!!!”
Over the past several days, nationwide protests have become more peaceful following days of riots, looting, arson, and vandalism across various cities, including the U.S. capital.
“We expect that Saturday’s demonstration will, like I said, be more of the same peaceful demonstrators coming to exercise their First Amendment right in Washington, D.C.,” Newsham told reporters on Thursday.
The White House has been fortified with new fencing and extra security precautions amid a week of mostly peaceful protests that at times grew violent and destructive.
President Donald Trump was reported to be at the White House, with no public events on the schedule.
Earlier, Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser called on Trump to remove various troops and law enforcement officers out of the city.
“I continue to be concerned that unidentified federal personnel patrolling the streets of Washington, DC pose both safety and national security risks,” Bowser said in a letter Friday.
She claimed that a heavy law enforcement presence is “inflaming demonstrators and adding to the grievances of” people who are protesting against “racist and broken systems that are killing Black Americans.”
Bowser also ordered painters to write “Black Lives Matter” in large yellow letters on 16th Street, located near the White House, and later shared a video of a new sign being installed on a street lamp, writing that “the section of 16th street in front of the White House is now officially ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza.'”
Trump on Saturday reacted to a tweet by social media personality Lily Marston, who shared a video of a crowd cheering Trump’s motorcade in Guilford, Maine, where there was no heavy police presence. Marston captioned the video with the comment: “Can’t help but notice a lack of riot gear or military control to ensure the protection and safety of this very large crowd.”
Trump responded by saying: “Riot gear or military control is not necessary because ANTIFA & other Wacko groups of Anarchists aren’t present to cause trouble.”
Bowser, who has repeatedly called on demonstrators to protest peacefully, wrote in a tweet Saturday: “As we make our voices heard, please continue to look out for one another. It’s crowded and many children are now also peacefully demonstrating.”
“Let’s continue to show the world our #DCvalues,” she added.
The Minneapolis Police Department officer filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has since been fired, arrested, and charged with murder in the second degree.
Three other policemen involved in the incident have been charged with aiding and abetting murder.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.