Fires light up Washington DC on third night of George Floyd protests

Sunday evening’s demonstrations began peacefully but deteriorated into firecrackers, tear gas and multiple fires.

Multiple fires broke out near the White House late on Sunday evening, as angry protesters gathered in Washington DC for the third night in a row following the death of George Floyd.

Sunday evening’s protests in front of the White House started relatively cheerfully, with a crowd of a few thousand in Lafayette park. Earlier in the day, demonstrators had marched through the city’s downtown, chanting “George Floyd! Say his name!” and “No Justice! No Peace!”

People run as police disperse protesters in Washington DC.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest People run as police disperse protesters in Washington DC. Photograph: Jim Bourg/Reuters

But as the 11 pm curfew approached, tensions between protesters and police mounted. Demonstrators faced off against a line of a few hundred police supported by national guardsmen. The lights illuminating the north side of the White House, which had provided the backdrop to the face off between protesters and police, were turned off. In normal times, they are only ever turned off when a president dies.

When 11pm came, the police line in front of the White House advanced with tear gas rounds across Lafayette park clearing out the protesters, with intermittent sprints. 

An area of a few blocks around the White House was thick with smoke. A fire was started in the basement of St John’s church, which since 1816 has been the “Church of the Presidents”. Every president from James Madison on has worshipped there. The DC Fire Service got there quickly and are reported to have put it out. 

Around the corner, however, a few protesters smashed the plate glass window front of the AFL-CIO Union federation headquarters and someone started a fire in the lobby. A couple of bystanders tried to dissuade them, shouting that the “unions are on our side” but to no avail. Fifty yards away, on I St, a car was burning and a group of six young men were running down the street and smashing the windows of every car they came across with metal baseball bats. 

Protesters throw a US flag into a fire during a demonstration outside the White House.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Protesters throw a US flag into a fire during a demonstration outside the White House. Photograph: Samuel Corum/AFP/Getty Images

There were two reports of journalists being targeted by the police. A CNN cameraman was hit by a police baton while holding his camera and his credentials, and an NBC reporter was hitting while broadcasting with what looked like a non-lethal police round. 

Looting was reported at several commercial districts around the capital, including Georgetown, the old money neighborhood to the west of the White House, where gunshots were reported. Residents were told to stay inside.  Advertisement

Aerial views of the area around the White House showed it wreathed in black smoke.

On Sunday it was reported that Donald Trump, his wife, Melania and son Barron, had been taken down to the White House bunker at the height of the protests on Friday and then brought back up as the crowds dispersed.

Earlier on Sunday, the DC mayor, Muriel Bowser, had said she would not impose a curfew because she thought it would simply be ignored by violent protesters, but by 8pm she had changed her mind, ordering people off the streets from 11pm on Sunday until 6am on Monday.

The police were reinforced by the entire DC national guard as well as agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the US Marshals Service. They managed to clear the protests from the White House area, but looting was still reported to be underway in the inner suburbs, after the curfew had passed.

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