WASHINGTON – Protesters attempted to topple a bronze statue of former president Andrew Jackson in a park next to the White House on Monday night but were thwarted when police intervened.
With chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Andrew Jackson’s got to go,” protesters threw ropes around the statue of the seventh president, depicted atop a horse in Lafayette Square, and tried to pull it down before police officers removed them from the area. Hundreds of protesters had locked arms around the statue.
In a chaotic scene, a helicopter flew low over the park as 150 to 200 U.S. Park and District of Columbia police used a chemical irritant to disperse protesters and sweep them back to a nearby street. Protesters did manage to smash the wooden wheels of four replica cannons at the base of the Jackson statue.
Protesters threw things at police, and officers shoved protesters in the melee. One woman hurled a folding chair, striking an officer, who staggered away from a police line.
Jackson was a former general in the U.S. Army and a populist politician sometimes compared with President Donald Trump in style. Known for his harsh treatment of Native Americans as president, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which led to the relocations of thousands of Native Americans and the deaths of thousands more. Jackson was also an enslaver.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted his dismay at the attempt to destroy the statue just minutes after the action.
“It’s about time DC police showed up to stop the mob,” he tweeted. “If Muriel Bowser won’t allow the police to do their job, @realdonaldtrump should deploy federal law enforcement.”
Trump on Friday night used Twitter to criticize D.C. police for not intervening as protesters in D.C. toppled a statue of Confederate Gen. Albert Pike near Judiciary Square.
Shortly after 9 p.m. Monday, protesters and police, who were in helmets and carrying batons and pepper spray, stood face-to-face in a relatively calm standoff after the action. Some people were singing, and others were telling officers to quit their jobs and join what they called the right side of history.
The move Monday capped a day of skirmishes between demonstrators protesting police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. On Monday afternoon, police and protesters briefly clashed as city officials attempted to clear out tents erected on a street near the White House.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said city officials had become concerned with the tents going up a street near the newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. On Monday afternoon, police, along with other city agencies, moved in to remove the tents.
“They were creating a potential safety hazard,” Newsham said.
During the operation, Newsham said, some demonstrators resisted and two officers were assaulted. He said police arrested two people and used pepper spray to move back the crowd.
D.C. Deputy Mayor Wayne Turnage said in a statement that the city was worried about campers’ exposure to traffic.
“We are always concerned when we have people staying in tents outside – it is not safe,” Turnage said in the statement. “It is also a serious concern if they are staying in tents in the middle of the road. Therefore, today, we deployed our interagency team to talk with the people staying on H Street and, eventually, to remove the tents.”
A city official said the team had approached the campers several times to explain the dangers of pitching tents in an open street but that campers rebuffed requests to move.
The moments of tension followed weeks of mostly peaceful protests. The carnival-like atmosphere in recent days stood in contrast to looting and clashes between protesters and police that marked the opening days of the protests that followed the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.
Frederick Brown, 24, said a D.C. police supervisor shot him with pepper spray as he and other protesters tried to prevent the officers from clearing the encampment.
About seven small tents had been set up in the street near St. John’s Episcopal Church. Many of the protesters in the tents were helping with Earl’s Grill, which has been offering food for the asking since early on.
“We put the tents in the street so that cars wouldn’t be able to come through, so people could protest,” Brown said. “They came up here agitating because they want this street open.”
Brown, who said he has been at Lafayette Square since the protests began, said that sometime before 2 p.m. an official from the office of Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, gave the protesters a warning to leave, saying it was illegal to block the street.
But the protesters defied the order, and police began moving them out of the street. Brown said one protester was arrested after he grabbed water bottles from police bicycles and began dumping them. Brown acknowledged that he intervened to prevent police from arresting another demonstrator when he was hit with pepper spray.
“We have been out here every day feeding people for free,” Brown said. “We have been peaceful overall.”
Jim Hensel, a tourist from Chicago, said he watched police talking to people for over an hour, telling them they needed to get their tents out of the street. Hensel said that when police began pushing people back things got more tense, with one protester soaking an officer with a fire extinguisher. Hensel got out of the way quickly.
By Monday evening, tents had been pushed off the street but some remained on the sidewalk. Protesters had pushed construction barriers and sections of metal fence into the street in the area to create roadblocks. Someone had posted a sign spray-painted on plywood: “BHAZ: Black House Autonomous Zone.”
The sign appeared to be a play on the area that protesters have cordoned off in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood dubbed the “CHAZ.”
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The Washington Post’s Peter Hermann and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.
Video: http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/local/protesters-in-washington-try-to-topple-a-statue-of-andrew-jackson-in-lafayette-square/2020/06/22/19ec2340-5a34-4789-ae74-0bf06b318c9c_video.html(Freddy Kunkle/The Washington Post)
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