City Paper is not for tourists
On Saturday, June 6, streets in cities and towns around the world filled with people protesting institutional anti-black racism and police brutality. In D.C., where just days earlier, police officers had attacked and arrested residents around the city for protesting the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other victims of racist violence, tens of thousands of determined individuals gathered peacefully and made their voices heard through chants, posters, and art.
Mayor Muriel Bowser made her own statement on the morning of June 5, when she changed the name of several blocks of 16th Street NW to Black Lives Matter Plaza and unveiled a streetwide mural that reads “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in large yellow letters next to the three stars and two bars of D.C.’s flag. Activists moved quickly to add a statement of their own, adding “DEFUND THE POLICE” and painting over the stars to turn the bars into an equal sign.
City Paper wanted to know who the people on the street were and what prompted them to act on this particular day, so we asked them. Some pasted posters in their neighborhoods or sat to take in the moment. Others walked with props that reflected their feelings. What motivated all of them was the need for immediate and significant systemic change.
The people we spoke with and the reporters that interviewed them provided images from Saturday’s actions. Throughout the weekend, City Paper’s longtime staff photographer, Darrow Montgomery, captured other moments of action and grace as people across our city called for justice.
“IT AIN’T OVER,” reads the sign of one man who Montgomery encountered at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday morning. He’s right. Let’s get to work. —Caroline Jones
Born and raised in D.C., Lisa Smith has been protesting against injustice her entire life. “It’s just in my blood to protest,” Smith says.
Although she’s been at it for years, Smith believes the ongoing protests taking place in the District and across the country indicate that many Americans have reached a new level of intolerance for racial injustice.
“We’re tired of being done so wrong for so long, and the people are not gonna stand for it anymore,” Smith says.
In Smith’s eyes, nothing has changed for far too long.
“I’m down here because for too long, there’s been injustice in police brutality and the killings. I’m down here because a long time ago, Dr. King said we should all be treated equally, but for the black people, they look at our color and they say we’re guilty,” Smith says. “But truth is, they’re just as guilty. Unclean hands committing a crime without doing the time. It is wrong. I’m down here to stand up for everything I believe in, and that’s justice for all. Whether you’re young, old, black, white, or whatever, there has not been no justice for a long time.” —Ella Feldman
“Justice [Shorter] reached out to me and said, ‘I want to go out to the protest, but I’m blind.’ I was like, ‘I’ve been feeling the same way. I want to go out to the protest, but I have a prosthetic limb.’ What would it look like for us to go together and feel supported and know this is a time we absolutely don’t want to miss? We went out there and felt everything we needed to feel affirmed.”
Gray and Shorter started on H Street NW, five blocks from the White House. “We saw the attention we were gathering,” Gray says. “We had wheelchair users. Folks that were signing. It wasn’t your typical scene. There was a lot going on, but we shared in the joy of resistance.”
Eventually, Gray was able to see the city’s “Black Lives Matter” street art. “It’s beautiful, if I’m going to be honest,” she says. “What Mayor [Muriel] Bowser has done—there’s controversy over some of her decisions, like when the 7 p.m. curfew hit on Monday and what [President] Trump did in relation to that. But when it comes to that mural, I think that was her way of showing some level of solidarity.” She appreciates the “Defund The Police” message that activists added. “It’s not about just saying the words ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but creating change that makes sure the black community doesn’t fall victim to our policing system,” she says.
She vows to stay involved: “One of the reasons we wanted to make Saturday happen is to continue to encourage people with disabilities to show up in the streets.” —Laura Hayes
Hours after a large crowd of protestors left the Lincoln Memorial, Dior Ginyard found a spot on the nearby steps in the shade and held up his sign. One side read: “IS MY 6-YEAR-OLD SON NEXT?”
A middle-aged white man stopped and asked what it meant. Ginyard, 31, replied that it referred to police brutality. Would his son, growing up black in America, be another victim of police violence? He was out in the heat protesting for his son’s future.
“I’ve been stopped before. I’ve been searched before. I’ve been questioned,” says Ginyard, who grew up in Prince George’s County and works for the NFL Players Association. “As a black man, it may look like we can take a punch … but we’re human. We cry. We have emotions. We have mental health issues, too. And that’s my goal, is that I hope that people look at us as human.”
He hasn’t yet had “the talk” with his son that many black parents have with their children about surviving police encounters. But he will, soon. “I think it’s not enough to just tell him, treat people good—and I hope he treats people the right way—it’s talking to him explicitly about racism, and what that looks like,” Ginyard says. —Kelyn Soong
D.C. resident Martha Miller marched alongside her family on Pennsylvania Avenue NW Saturday in “solidarity with friends and for those who can’t be here.”
The 30-something Birmingham, Alabama, native is due to give birth in a few weeks, she says, and is also marching for a “better world that this child is gonna come into.”
She’s participated in public demonstrations previously, but never one this large, she says. Also fueling her desire to march is her recognition that, as a white woman, her interactions with the police are “totally different” from her black friends and neighbors.
Like others marching on Pennsylvania Avenue NW over the weekend, Miller says the 16th Street mural is a nice gesture, but “it needs to be backed up with action from individuals, from the government, and from institutions,” she says. “It needs to be everyone taking responsibility to act.”—Mitch Ryals
On June 6, Michael Patterson, 37, could be found spinning an arrow sign proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” down Pennsylvania Avenue NW, with two other spinners. When the group of men reached Black Lives Matter Plaza, the crowd made space and created a circle around them so they could spin their signs, much to the surprise of Patterson. There was a moment afterwards when an elderly black woman asked Patterson to take a photo with them.
“It was a wonderful moment to see so many generations of people, so many races, and so many people represented,” Patterson tells City Paper.
Patterson is one of the founders of AArrow Sign Spinners, a national guerrilla marketing company that creates serious employment opportunities for young people and trains them to be competitive spinners. “This is my way of creating social change,” Patterson says.
He protested with his sign on four other days in addition to Saturday, because the message he’s trying to communicate is personal. Patterson has been pulled over by police 35 times, he says, and once for driving 43 mph in a 55 mph zone. When he was 16, police handcuffed Patterson because they couldn’t believe that he and his friends—a group of young black men—could live in a nice house in Prince George’s County. Patterson remembers waiting outside the house for 25 minutes in handcuffs as the neighbors watched. “We had to prove that his parents lived there,” Patterson recalls. It was a traumatic and humiliating experience that he’ll never forget. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Protesting was Alex Duarte’s immediate reaction. After the Minneapolis police’s killing of George Floyd on May 25, in addition to the shootings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor earlier this year, caused a tidal wave of protests against anti-black racism and police brutality, Duarte’s first thought was to join the marches and be part of the cause. So, she did. She protested last Tuesday, and then again on Saturday—with her boyfriend, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend—from noon to 4 p.m.
Originally from Rockville, she now lives in D.C. “It makes me feel emotional,” she says of protesting. She’s proud to live in the District, where she says she can join the right team and help however she can. “It’s empowering, and I feel lucky to be in a city where I can easily be part of a movement,” she says. The power of protesting, in her view, is showing that those fighting for what’s right will make their voices heard, forcing policymakers and city officials to address the issues at hand.
“As long as we promise each other to continue, it’s truly one of the most beneficial ways to create change, and the government will not be able to ignore it,” she says. “The relentlessness from the people protesting is powerful.”
On Saturday, she began protesting at noon at the Lincoln Memorial, and later walked with the crowd to the White House. Afterward, she ventured around the city, joining different crowds and ended her protesting near the U.S. Capitol. She held a sign that referred to Donald Trump as “Bunker Bitch.” She walked six miles that day.
While she appreciates the aesthetic of the new “Black Lives Matter” mural painted in yellow on 16th Street NW, she wants to see action to make those words ring true: “Like anything in life, words don’t mean anything unless the action matches up. If black lives matter, what has been done to prove that? Will there be defunding in the police? What else is to come of that? It’s a great statement and I think it was done well, I just think there needs to be more on top of that. Actions speak louder than words.” —Kayla Randall
Not far from his Capitol Hill home, Nate Stephens, 33, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue NW on Saturday, holding a pinata of Donald Trump dressed as the devil.
“I’ve been bringing [it] to protests since 2016,” he says. “I bought it in Guatemala in 2016. Every year at the end of the year, they have a tradition called ‘cama del diablo,’ which is the devil burning to burn the bad spirits of the year, and in 2016 the devil took the form of Donald Trump in Guatemala, so I brought one back and have been bringing it to every protest since.”
Stephens says he’s marching to oppose the “authoritarian white suprmacist state of Donald Trump,” and although his own experiences with the police are minimal, he says his partner, who is black, “has repeated negative experience with the police on a nearly daily basis, including in our neighborhood, including in our doorway when he was trying to walk in.”
Stephens says he’s participated in dozens of protests in D.C. in the past, but Saturday’s march feels larger and more urgent.
“It feels different for sure,” he says. “I’m seeing white people speak more confidently and walk less meekly.”
As for the “Black Lives Matter” mural on 16th Street NW?
“I think it’s a nice gesture and doesn’t go nearly far enough in terms of the action and reform needed to abolish the police,” he says. “It’s a nice ‘fuck you’ to Donald Trump, but in terms of actual action, it clearly lacks.” —Mitch Ryals
Khadijah Ceesay knows the power of protests. Originally from The Gambia, a small country in West Africa, Ceesay had a front row seat to the protests that helped end the 23-year authoritarian rule of Yahya Jammeh.
“We protested and got him out,” Ceesay says. “I know what it is like to be under a tyrant, and America does not want that with Donald Trump.”
Ceesay has been living in D.C. for five years. Although Saturday was her first time attending a large protest in the city, she has been acutely aware of the systemic racism protesters are fighting against ever since coming to the United States.
“I am black, I am a woman, I am Muslim, and I am an immigrant, so I see injustice and I see inequality all around me—Islamaphobic comments, racism, all of it,” Ceesay says. “It’s our responsibility to be out here protesting to get justice. If we don’t fight for it, who’s gonna fight for us? It’s up to us, everybody, to fight. America was built by everybody and America is for everybody.”
On Saturday, Ceesay did not interact with police officers. She avoided being near them, as she usually does.
“To be honest, I try to avoid the police as much as I can,” Ceesay says. “I don’t want anything to do with cops.” —Ella Feldman
Amanda Quintana didn’t join any crowds on Saturday. “I’m very aware of coronavirus and the pandemic. I’m a public health professional in the area, so this has been on my mind, but, of course, I want to make sure that our community is safe, and I still want to show my support,” she says. Instead, she pasted posters around Glover Park, where she lives. They addressed defunding the police, the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and MPD’s treatment of the black community in D.C.
Mindful of public health, Quintana, 27, only walked around with one other person, but she’s in a newly organized WhatsApp group of about 40 people. “There’s an Excel spreadsheet with all of our contacts on who can make wheatpaste, who’s able to travel around, who’s able to print posters, things like that,” she says.
“I needed to feel like I was doing something in solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement that was going on in D.C.,” she says. “Typically, I’d be the first person to run down there to march with everyone, like I did with the Women’s March and the climate marches and everything that has happened in the city. But with the pandemic, I can’t with good conscience do it.”
Less than 24 hours after they were put up, some of the posters were defaced with “grotesque” graffiti, Quintana says. The group agreed that they’d paste other posters on top “with the knowledge that this could potentially happen again,” she says, but they’ll also try a different approach: asking businesses—ones that weren’t boarded up—to place the flyers behind the glass in their storefronts. —Emma Sarappo
For James Earle, the fight against racism and brutality toward the black community is a literal marathon. According to his Fitbit, Earle has walked more than 26 miles during the past week while protesting downtown day after day.
“This is just the beginning,” Earle says. “If we can really get everybody on board with the next steps, the real hard work, the policy changes, the organizing, if we can translate these protests into real change, I think there’s some hope for our future.”
Mayor Bowser made headlines last week when she commissioned a “Black Lives Matter” street mural and renamed a portion of 16th Street NW after the movement. Earle, who’s been living in the District for six years, says he’d like to see the mayor put substantive change behind those actions.
“I think [the mural and plaza are] great for catching headlines. I think [they’re] great for pissing off Trump. It’s encouraging, but we’re not here for a performance. We’re here for policy. We want change,” Earle says. “Muriel Bowser’s record has been touch-and-go on police issues and police reform, and while D.C. and the Metropolitan Police Department have come a long way since the ’80s, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, there’s a lot of trust that needs to be rebuilt, and Bowser really needs to step up. She needs to do more than repaint a street and rename a plaza.” —Ella Feldman
Lydia Curtis, 63, and Mark Robinson, 66, had been out four other days to protest before the largest day of demonstrations on June 6.
“It’s important that people come out in numbers and that the protest continues,” Curtis tells City Paper. “We have people who haven’t gotten justice. We have names we don’t know who haven’t gotten justice. And we don’t want this to happen anymore. The only way we can keep pressure on the status quo is if we stay in the streets.”
The married couple is inspired by the ferocity of the young people that learned from their elders and are leading the protests. And what felt different in these protests than in past ones, Robinson says, was no one was saying “all lives matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter” chants. “People are starting to get it,” Robinson says. “Hearts are changing.”
A powerful moment for the couple came when they saw White Coats for Black Lives taking a knee. It was the convergence of two public health crises plaguing black people: police brutality and COVID-19. “We need powerful symbols,” Curtis says. Symbols like this, along with the mayor’s “Black Lives Matter” mural and street renaming, are important, but it should not end there, the couple says. They advise supporting grassroots organizations. Both are part of different local groups, including Empower DC and Diverse City Fund.
“I have a lot of history with the police that’s not all positive,” Robinson says. “I would like to defund police and start all over again too .… We could have a big, 10,000-foot discussion, but I also think we really need to understand that we need to do things that are going to help the next young black man, or woman, or person of color who gets stopped by the cops and is abused.”
Robinson relived his protest experience the next day with his 94-year-old mother, who marched on Washington in 1963. She couldn’t go out due to the pandemic, but Curtis went out to protest yet again.—Amanda Michelle Gomez
Prashant Choudhary, 27, came to the District from his home in Alexandria to march from the Dirksen Senate Office Building down Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
“Because Breonna Taylor needs justice,” he says. “Alton Sterling needs justice. Black people need justice … This is an ongoing issue. Black lives matter. The world needs to know that this is an injustice in America, and this is what we stand for and we’re willing to fight for and die for.”
Choudhary says his previous interactions with police have been unpleasant. He understands officers have a tough job, but “there needs to be a better way to train police officers and a more effective way to deal with the crisis in our country.”
“There are so many homeless people in this country who have mental issues, who the police are called for, and they take them to jail,” he continues. “We need to systemically divest funds, not necessarily just for police and law enforcement and giving them the latitude to go to town on citizens. We need to move towards a society where we can function better. We can do better. We have to do better. This is America.” —Mitch Ryals
Saturday was the first day DuLane McGill, 17, protested against the killing of George Floyd. Both McGill and his mother were nervous about the coronavirus and how police would react to his black body within the crowds of people. But after watching the video of a white police officer kneeling into Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, McGill could not stay home.
“Our people have been through enough,” McGill says. “If there is one black person who can have a voice and be empowered and try to make a change, I want to be that person.”
The 17-year-old has had his own traumatizing run-in with police. Once, when he was going to the store, McGill says he was stopped and frisked by the Metropolitan Police Department. Police searched his pockets for a weapon. “After they found out I was just some kid trying to go to the store, they felt so bad. They just let me go,” he says.
This is not McGill’s first time protesting. He became politically active when the D.C. government decided to shut down Washington Metropolitan Opportunity Academy, an alternative high school for students who struggle in traditional settings. He does not see these protests as separate from those, so cannot understand how the mayor or other officials could. “Our school was meant for people who wanted a second chance. A lot of black people need a second chance, so for you to just close our school and now try to show support, it’s like, what side are you actually on,” he asks.
McGill has no intention of stopping anytime soon. “If my mom is actually going to allow me to come out here, I will actually come out here every single time to protest—just to be out here to scream and rage that we matter and we should have justice and we are going to get that justice some day,” he says. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
For current Baltimore denizen and first-time protester Shania Bailey, the demonstration in D.C. Saturday afternoon brought a sense of unity.
“I think it’s great to see so many diverse people here, especially in D.C., which is one of the most diverse places I’ve lived,” she says. “It’s great to see so many people out here for one cause, and I think it’s more of a civil rights issue than a politics issue. I think that’s what’s been unifying people.” —Mitch Ryals
A trail of flowers led to Carmen Hardesty and her wagon of blooms parked across from the White House. Hardesty, the owner of local floral service Poppy, and her husband, Michael Babyak, were handing out stems to protesters. “I’ve been out with my husband at the protests for the last few days, and it was really dark. There were military police everywhere, I was like, ‘we need flowers,’” Hardesty says. She asked one of her supply farms for free flowers to give away, and they obliged. Hardesty worked on drug policy in the White House during the Obama administration. She feels strongly about ending mass incarceration and mandatory minimum sentencing, and was appalled by the death of George Floyd. While Hardesty and Babyay haven’t had any negative police interactions, she described the scene downtown the week prior as “an alphabet soup of law enforcement.” The officers without identifying insignia troubled her. “I was trying to understand why they’re here and who they were, but they wouldn’t talk to us, it got kind of tense,” Hardesty says. —Elizabeth Tuten
Daniella Villamil, 29, marched for about an hour in Arlington, where she lives, and later met up with friends in D.C. Together, they marched from Malcolm X Park to the White House.
Two things stayed with her when she spoke with City Paper the next day. First were the “storytellers,” who reminded the crowd of “some of the stories of people in different places in the country, how their life was taken, how there wasn’t justice,” she says. “I think those moments are very sobering because, of course, you’re marching and you know exactly what you’re doing, but I think that just hearing different stories just reminds you how important it is for everybody to show up and come out.”
The other was the go-go music and the celebratory atmosphere she’d seen in D.C. “They were just sort of saying, like, hey, let’s also have a little bit of black joy, let’s enjoy ourselves, not everything has to be about trauma,” she says.
She marched because “it is not a time to adopt a stance of neutrality or complacency. I think we’re being called to kind of stand up,” she says. “I think that is the most important thing, and that’s why, for me, it was important to show up physically, even though I’m scared during this pandemic. I think we just have to keep track of all of us, of everyone, of the fact that black lives always matter.” —Emma Sarappo
Charlottesville, Virginia, resident Emily Rose brought sage to the protest in downtown D.C. Saturday afternoon “to cleanse the energy of this place,” she says. “It needs some love. It needs some clarity.”
She showed up with her friends to stand in solidarity with the African American community and against police violence.
“This is a really potent time that we’re in, and the more of us who show up, hopefully the more progress we’ll make and the more change we’ll invoke,” Rose says.
Her reaction to the scene last weekend? “It’s fucking awesome.” —Mitch Ryals
Devin Williams, 20, traveled from northern Virginia with his father to march in D.C. to “support the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s going on with police brutality,” he says. “It’s just nice to see a bunch of different people from different backgrounds supporting the same cause.”
He’s never participated in a demonstration like this, and describes the scene as “breathtaking.”
“I’ve never seen this amount of people for one cause and trying to level the playing field for everybody,” he says. —Mitch Ryals
Originally from northern Virginia, but now living in Adams Morgan, Erin Crowder protested at Malcolm X Park “for a lot of reasons.” She’s here for all victims of police brutality, but also specifically for Bijan Ghaisar. “Their family’s dear friends of mine, and he was shot by [U.S.] Park Police two years ago now, and the federal government has been silent on the ongoings of the shooting, and the family has pressed for answers, and we’ve just gotten none,” she says.
Crowder had participated in Occupy Wall Street protests, but had never marched against police brutality and racism until last week. After a “ loaded” day on Saturday, that was at times emotional and at other times joyful, and several days of protesting last week, she says she’s inclined to continue protesting. “Especially being a resident of D.C. and being so close to the lawmakers and decision makers of the country, I do feel like I have the opportunity and duty almost. It’s so easy for me to walk down to the White House—it’s about a 30 minute walk—and join in and show support physically. It’s a really easy thing I can do.” —Will Warren
Caitlin Neels, 24, traveled to D.C. from Reston to support her friends and “speak out against the racism that’s happening around the country.”
She’s participated in other public demonstrations in the District in the past, such as the Women’s March and the March for Racial Justice.
“The Women’s March was very, very powerful,” she says. “I’m glad I went with my mom, and then the March for Racial Justice, I mean we’re still doing the same thing. I wish it had worked then, but hopefully now people are more willing to listen.
“I think there’s more anger now,” she continues. “That was three years ago and there’s been no difference, no change. And I think the police presence here and the violence they’re using against the protesters is making it more heightened.”
Her interactions with police is limited to getting pulled over for speeding tickets, which she says have been generally negative.
“They’ve always had an attitude for no reason,” Neels says. “I felt unsafe a couple times. But I’m also a person of color, so that could be it.” —Mitch Ryals
Allison Krumsiek, 40, marched more than four miles in Arlington on a route from Court House to Memorial Bridge. “I’m a runner, and it was almost like a race, because every half a mile there were aid stations,” she says. “People were out there with water, with Capri Sun, with granola bars, people had sunscreen … people were amazingly generous the entire time.”
Saturday’s march was Krumsiek’s first large protest, and she was amazed, she says, as were her friends. “The friend that I was with, she’s black and she grew up here in Arlington as well, and she kept saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, I’ve never felt anything like this.’ You could tell that something changed. There were people of all races and ages, and children, and people on bikes, and people who couldn’t protest were standing on the side cheering us on. There was a whole construction crew on a roof cheering as people walked down Clarendon Boulevard. It was like nothing I’ve ever felt before—so many people out there together, I can’t even explain it,” she says.
Because of the pandemic, she’d been keeping away from people—her boyfriend has asthma, and she doesn’t want to get him sick—but felt compelled to protest on Saturday. “It just seems like one of those moments where you can’t put yourself first. You have to get out there and you have to say, ‘I’m done with this,’” she says. “If we can keep this momentum going, we can push this past the tipping point and hopefully change the world.” —Emma Sarappo
MacKenzie Evans drove about 20 miles from northern Virginia to march in the District Saturday—the first such demonstration she’s participated in—“because no one realizes black lives matter and it’s just becoming even more egregiously apparent,” she says. “I feel like Trump’s reign has really promoted a divide in America that’s just more extreme than it’s ever been. And I just feel like we’re regressing in terms of acting civilized and respecting and caring for one another.”
She’s had brief interactions with police in the past, not “super violent, but I have gotten in trouble a couple of times.”
As for the street mural painted on 16th Street NW? “I love it,” she says. —Mitch Ryals
Bruce Jones was born and raised in D.C. He once lived across the street from Malcolm X Park, where he stopped on his way back to Takoma, where he currently lives, from protesting downtown. He didn’t expect to be protesting today—he had gone downtown to pick up his wife—but found himself drawn in. “I’m just amazed at what younger people have done in forming some sort of real change initiatives,” Jones says. Growing up, he says, killings by police officers didn’t get this level of attention, even though it happened “all the time.” “But now, I think they’ve reached the point where people are not going to take it anymore,” he says.
There was a moment that struck him earlier in the day. “It was definitely a feeling that something was different. Almost a new age, a new chapter. Something had turned. And going down 16th Street, it’s like you can feel it as you get closer to it. I could feel the energy. The energy of the people. It’s overwhelming almost. Even with people with masks, you know they were smiling. One thing to me, when I got down there, it kind of shifted, it wasn’t like a protest, it was like a demonstration. A demonstration of people coming together to say ‘this is how we should live.’”
Later that day, at the Takoma Park Recreation Center, he participated in another protest, kneeling alongside his neighbors. —Will Warren
Sharon Soh, 26, and her friend Julie Kim, 25, drove from Baltimore to march in D.C. Saturday afternoon, believing their presence can make a difference.
“Every small thing matters and each protest matters,” Soh says. “What I’m scared of actually is that this momentum is going to stop, and people are gonna forget again. That’s why I’m out here, so people don’t forget.”
She’s also participated in recent protests in Baltimore and Rockville. The march in D.C. Saturday had a similar energy, she says.
The mural on 16th Street NW is a “nice gesture,” Soh says. “But I feel like that’s just it. It’s just a gesture, and I think actions speak louder than words. So until we see actual reform, it’s just a pretty picture.” —Mitch Ryals