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Tensions Flare Near White House In Protests Sparked By George Floyd's Death

May 31, 2020
Originally published on May 31, 2020 4:29 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we've heard, many cities saw protests this week. So has Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. There have been peaceful and angry protests set off by the death in police custody of George Floyd. Last night, those protests turned violent. As demonstrators were tear gassed and driven away from the White House. Nearby businesses were vandalized and some small fires set. Now there is another protest underway. Joining us from Washington, D.C., near the White House is NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. And, Danielle, you've been with this group for a few hours. How are things going?

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

Well, in short, things are tense. But they seem to have calmed down from where they were about an hour ago. Right now, the march had started at Howard University this afternoon. A historically black university here in D.C. It went down to Lafayette Park. North of the White House, and then since then has moved. The march went down near the Mall. It is now sort of looping back towards the White House. But along the way, there were some confrontations with police that I saw between protesters and police, yes.

MARTIN: So it sounds like the mood has definitely shifted from when you started.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes because, you know, it was a peaceful protest with chanting, you know, going from the university to the White House with a police escort. It was loud. It was enthusiastic, certainly not violent in any way. Then, down at Lafayette Park, what happened was the protesters were up against some barricade facing a long line of Secret Service members and also D.C. Park Police. And things just got progressively tenser - again, not out of control, not exactly violent. But there were times when you would see the Secret Service advance on the crowd as the crowd got louder and more agitated. And the crowd would run. The crowd would scream. The crowd would yell back at them. Things were getting more and more tense, yes.

MARTIN: Now we hear that the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, has weighed in.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes. She has put in place a curfew starting at 11:00 p.m. tonight. It will go until 6:00 a.m. in the morning. So the big question then is, you know, how quickly these protesters clear the streets because that is rapidly approaching.

MARTIN: So what have people that you've been spending time with today told you about why they're there?

KURTZLEBEN: They've told me they're fed up. They've told me that, you know, they keep seeing police violence against black men in particular, black women also, and that they're tired of seeing it. Aside from that, I've been watching people confront the police. I was there for a pretty tense confrontation between people and police. And especially a lot of black protesters going up to some black members of the D.C. police force, sometimes reaching out and saying, you're my brother, you're my sister, but sometimes asking them, hey, why are you doing this job? I am very sad and ashamed that you do this job. And, you know, in some cases, I was right there when they shot or threw I believe it was a smoke bomb into the crowd. There were some really loud booms, some very tense, scary moments for these protesters here in downtown D.C. today. Again, I will say I haven't seen anybody hurt. Nothing is out of control or anything like that that I have seen.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. She is presently at Lafayette Park, which is near the White House. Danielle, thank you so much for your reporting.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.