Violence in Washington, D.C. escalated significantly Saturday on the second night of massive protests and riots in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
On Friday, the main event in the city was a demonstration in front of the White House. By Saturday night, the situation developed into violent clashes between police and protesters in the heart of downtown Washington, with buildings and cars set ablaze a block away from the White House.
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The protesters set fire to a building adjacent to the historic Hay Adams hotel, located a block away from the White House and considered one of the most prestigious in the city. The Washington, D.C. fire department said the fire impacted an alley next to the hotel and did not harm the building itself. However, the hotel facade was also covered in graffiti, including the slogan “Fuck the rich.”
Protesters also set fire to several vehicles that were parked in the area and smashed store windows, in addition to breaking an ATM, all within a range of one or two blocks from the White House grounds. Another block further to the west, they threw stones at the glass windows of a commercial office building. The police used fireworks and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
The demonstrations centered around the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis. Floyd was arrested last week, and a video of the arrest shows police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck until he died. Peaceful rallies against Floyd's killing were met with clashes by police, and gave way to riots in multiple U.S. cities. Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with murder.
Many of the protesters, especially those who participated in the violent clashes with the police, did not wear face coverings, raising fears among city officials that the protests will increase the spread of COVID-19 within the city. Last week, the White House warmed that the Washington, D.C. region was seeing the highest percentage of positive coronavirus tests in the country, and had the potential to become the next major virus hotspot.
Trump referred to the situation in Washington in a series of tweets on Saturday morning, in which he thanked the U.S. Secret Service for how it handled Friday's protests, and bragged about the “vicious dogs” that were protecting the White House compound. He wrote that he “couldn’t have felt more safe.”
Trump also criticized the local police and the mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, and claimed that they did not offer their help. Bowser responded by saying that “Our police department in Washington, D.C. will always protect D.C. and all who live and visit here. That's exactly what we did yesterday and last night.”
She hit back at Trump by saying that “We need leaders who recognize pain and in times of despair can provide us a sense of calm and hope. Instead, what we've got in the last two days from the White House is the glorification of violence against American Citizens."