People of all colours, creeds, ages and walks of life flooded the national capital Saturday to vent their anger over the police killing of George Floyd, encountering two very different, larger-than-life symbols along the way — a study in political contrasts along a fractured America’s most active fault line.
“Black Lives Matter” — block letters as tall as the roadway is wide, stencilled by city workers in yellow traffic paint — jumps off the asphalt along the two blocks of 16th Street leading to Lafayette Square, ending just before the faded pastel facade of the boarded-up St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Steps across H Street, at the edge of a strip of pavement rechristened Black Lives Matter Plaza, a two-metre black steel fence, initially erected to keep protesters out of the park, snakes all the way around the entire White House complex and its adjacent buildings, fortified by concrete barriers for good measure.
Dannielle Brown stood at that juncture Saturday, the walled-off seat of presidential power behind her, and mourned.
“He was a scholar and a baller,” she shouted to anyone who would listen, brandishing the framed football jersey of her son, Marquis Jayden Brown, who died in 2018 after an encounter with police — an encounter no one was there to capture on cellphone video.
“The camera was not rolling,” Brown wailed.
“There’s a whole lot of us out here whose story hasn’t been told, there’s a whole lot of us out here right now in the nation’s capital who lost lives to police brutality. We want change, and we want it now.”
Americans are no strangers to that refrain, which in the past has tended to fade with the passage of time. But a palpable sense that this time is different was evident Saturday, partly because of the fact that black men and women haven’t been the only people on the streets.
“This one was just the last straw,” said Zion Raeburn, a 20-year-old black man who attends Suquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Penn.
“All my life I’ve been seeing this; I was in middle school when Trayvon Martin was shot. There’s been countless others since, and now I’m a sophomore in college. I could have been any of those people,” he said.
“A lot more white people are more informed now, and they’re out here. They’re the voices that are really going to be heard. The American government has been known to ignore black voices.”
Protesters have been clogging city streets for more than a week, moved to action by the death of Floyd at the hands of police officers May 25 on a Minneapolis street. And while the violence and looting that marred the earliest days of the protests has diminished, their numbers have not.