WASHINGTON, DC — Mayor Muriel Bowser blamed outside agitators for creating havoc and disrupting peaceful demonstrations over the weekend.
“We will not tolerate violence of any kind in Washington, D.C.,” said Bowser, during a Monday public safety press briefing. “We don’t tolerate it if it’s on the streets between rival crews and we won’t tolerate it against our police officers, the men and women who are charged with keeping our community safe. And we certainly won’t tolerate it against our residents and visitors.”
Bowser added that the collective attention of the District was on preventing violence of all kinds, all forms, and in all places.
“What we’re certainly not going to do is stand by and allow outside agitators to come to our city to distract us from our work with D.C. residents,” she said. “Many of our residents are out there, protesting themselves and doing so peacefully.”
However, Bowser said that moving among those peaceful protesters over the weekend were individuals intent on creating chaos and violence against the police.
When asked whether she was concerned about peaceful protesters being harmed from the police response to the violence caused by outside agitators, Bowser responded:
“What I’m worried about is this country descending into a race war and I’m worried about the continued incitement of violence from leadership who should be focused on bringing our communities together.”
On Friday, thousands of demonstrators gathered on the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial for the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This year’s event, entitled The Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks, focused on calls to end racial injustice and police violence against people of color.
Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham on Monday described the March as one of the largest ever seen in the city.
“We welcomed tens of thousands of demonstrators to our city, who peacefully demonstrated throughout the day,” said Newsham. “I was out there the entire day and into the late evening, and I have to tell you, that event was facilitated very peacefully and we had no arrests with the peaceful demonstrations that occurred on Friday.”
What the District officials saw over the weekend, though, was very different. In contrast to the peaceful protesters on Friday, outside agitators appeared in the city, bringing weapons they would use to destroy property in the city and disrupt the protests, Bowser said.
“On Saturday and Sunday night …. were agitators who descended on the city,” the mayor said. “It sounds like they came on Wednesday and Thursday armed for battle: fireworks, baseball bats, laser pointers, and they were looking for the police to confront. They set fire to local newspaper boxes, accomplishing absolutely nothing.”
Bowser said District officials did not know the identity of the outside agitators nor who may fund and organize them, only that they had come to the city to create havoc.
“They are not the same as residents who proudly say ‘Black Lives Matter,'” she said. “What we need as a nation, we know, are systemic reforms. And what these agitators are doing is distracting from what our nation needs.”
Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted about Bowser, saying she should “arrest these agitators and thugs!”
.@MayorBowser should arrest these agitators and thugs!Clean up D.C. or the Federal Government will do it for you. Enough!!! @MayorBowser https://t.co/45RzrDqw1q
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2020
“We know that the President considers himself ‘Mr. Law and Order.’ I want to be very clear, he’s coming for the wrong team, because we are for law and order too,” Bowser said. “We’re for D.C. residents living peacefully. We’re for D.C. residents speaking up for their neighbors and friends and demanding social justice, but we are for peace.”
The mayor went on to say the intention of Trump’s tweets were to distract from his failures of the last four years.
“We know that when a president attacks American cities, he’s attacking America,” Bowser said. “And the job of the president is to unite us, not to divide us.”
She called on the federal government to assist MPD the best way it could, by doing their job and helping its officers.
“When we make arrests for violent protests, we need those violent agitators to be prosecuted,” Bowser said. “When we arrest people for felony charges, we need the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is a federal appointee of the president, to prosecute them. Right now, there’s no accountability for the people who came to these protests and attacked our police.”
She added that there appeared to be no willingness by the U.S. attorney to prosecute them.
As of Sunday, 68 felony warrants are awaiting processing at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including three assaults on a police officer, according to information released by MPD. Two of those charges were submitted in June and one in July. Some of the warrants date back to November 2019.
“MPD has its charge, as it always has, to keep D.C. safe, to support peaceful protests, and to hold those who would be violent accountable,” Bowser said. “And we need the federal government to do its job and prosecute these people.”
On Thursday night, the Republican National Convention wrapped up with a ceremony on the White House grounds and a fireworks display at the Washington Monument.
A number of people had come to D.C. to protest the convention, according to Newsham. About 200-300 protesters gathered outside the White House at about 8:30 p.m., and began throwing projectiles at police.
“It escalated around 10 p.m.,” Newsham said. “A group of agitators in the area of 15th and Pennsylvania began launching fireworks at police officers. There was some property destroyed, some small fires were set in trashcans and in the roadway.”
MPD made eight arrests over the evening, seven adult males and one adult female. Charges included assault on a police officer, simple assault, and destruction of property, the chief said. Four MPD officers were injuried, including one broken nose. Three MPD vehicles were also damaged.
Around 9 p.m., on Saturday, MPD observed individuals using smoke devices, setting off illegal fireworks, setting fires, and spray painting graffiti throughout the Adams Morgan neighborhood, Newsham said. In addition, some of the individuals used laser pointers to distract police. Two MPD officers suffered eye injuries as a result.
A group of individuals around 11 p.m. began throwing projectiles and incendiary devices near the White House. Objects thrown included glass and bricks.
“They also deployed some tear gas. This was not MPD,” Newsham said. “They shot fireworks at our officers and some more small fires were set in the area.”
In response, MPD deployed pepper spray and sting balls. Six officers were injured and two vehicles were damaged. Five arrests were made, with charges for felony rioting, possession of unregistered ammunition, and assault on a police officer.
One arrest involved a charge of reckless driving for the driver of a van registered in Washington state.
“We have intelligence to suggest that van was also at some of the violence we saw in Portland, Oregon, and some of the violent activity that we saw in Kenosha [Wisconsin],” Newsham said, adding that the driver was in police custody.
Over Sunday night, a group of more than 100 individuals marched throughout the city. At 9 p.m., the group set two small fires near the White House, which were quickly extinguished. As the group marched toward Thomas Circle around 10:15 p.m., some of the agitators fired smoke bombs, fireworks, and other munitions toward police. They also defaced property with spray paint.
“At 11:45 p.m., they became increasingly aggressive,” Newsham said. “They were spitting, hurling balloons filled with urine at police officers. Bricks and bottles were also thrown at our officers, as well as fireworks.”
One agitator attempted to strike an MPD motor officer with a vehicle, which was later stopped by the Virginia State Police, who took the occupants into custody.
In total, MPD arrested 14 individuals Sunday night, charging them with felony rioting. Five officers were injured and two vehicles were damaged.
More than 70 percent of the individuals arrested over the last four days were not from D.C.
“They appeared to be folks who are coming to our peaceful city with the intent of destroying property and hurting folks,” Newsham said. “As we constantly say whenever we have these events in our city, we welcome peaceful demonstrations like we had on Friday. If you come to the city with the intent of destroying property or hurting people, we have a responsibility to take you into custody.”
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