Below is a sort of photo-reportage of the events as they evolved during the protests at the White House. As of the time of writing, we are still under a curfew that begins at 7.p.m. and ends at 6.a.m. The intention is to lock down the city in an extended Coronavirus quarantine. The difference is that now the city restaurants, hotels, and shops are sealed off and blocked with wooden panels that are supposed to protect the properties. But while the police are running after innocent and peaceful protesters, the rioters are looting and destroying. We have not heard of police arresting any of these people. On the bright side, today, Tuesday was an important day. The army or better, the National Guard, has retreated within the perimeter of the White House, which is now fenced with metal protection nine feet tall. This is the first time that the White House has been so far away from the people. These new demarcation lines demonstrate that Trump now has his playground, while outside on the streets, five thousand plus people are chanting, facing the guards, and trying to talk to them. It appears to have become a kind of speaker’s corner, or better, a place for debate and dialog that is starting. Vote.
I went to the White House for two days in a row. On the third day, when the mayor of Washington D.C. decided to enforce an earlier curfew, moving it up from 11 p.m. to 7 p.m., I decided to disobey. I wanted to know why the curfew began an hour before sunset. From day one of the riots that started after the cruel murder of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, curfews were installed to separate the good protesters from the bad guys who have been looting and burning dozens of American cities. “They normally came in with the dark,” officials in Minneapolis explained as they installed the new regime with the help of the National Guard. The curfews were the first attempt to deviate from the reason why Mr. Floyd was murdered.
Regardless of this new curfew regime, the nation continued to be off its leash. It was just before I went down to the White House on Monday that I heard three youngsters discussing looting with their loud, fearless voices on the street. They were talking about how easy it was to do it. One of them was hesitating, the other two pushing him to join in. “It’s easy and quick. You go in, choosing your item, and next moment you are out,” they said,
When Mao Zedong ordered the Chinese youth to “Attack the headquarters” in the 60s, China entered into a period of chaos. Years later, I spoke to people who had been the same age as the three kids on the streets of Washington, D.C., during the Cultural Revolution. They told me about the joy the cultural revolution had offered them. They had an opportunity to travel around the country for free and have a lot of fun. They got something they would never be able to get without the Cultural revolution. No school, just free to travel, to move from place to place in exchange for chanting a few slogans or better quotes coming from the Little Red book with Mao’s citations. Is America going through a similar period of change, with the young protestors marching in the front lines, however this time without the manipulative guidance of a charismatic leader like Mao? And what can these young Washingtonians do with their unexpected freedom and wide-open doors of ransacked shops? Can they go beyond swiping a pair of Nikes, a fishing rod, some electronic gadgets?
I took my bike and a mask and checked my phone’s battery. “I’ll be back soon,” I said to my wife as I put my helmet on. As I rode down 15th Street, I heard a loud chanting of trending slogans. I managed to ask the marching group if they knew that there was a curfew in half an hour. “We could not care less,” they answered. They were loud and determined, lovely college kids. How did they get organized if the universities are all shut down due to COVID-19? I rushed down to the President’s home. The city has never been so empty as it was in yesterday’s late afternoon. It was all mine. It felt like being in an abandoned city. Have you ever been in an empty city, when almost everyone has left for vacation, and you, for some reason, have could not? Well, Washington was like this half an hour before curfew on Monday. Except that people were already locked behind their doors like they were during the days of the Boston curfew in 2013 when the army imposed a strict curfew as thousands of soldiers flooded the streets of Boston, hunting down one teenage bomber. Was it an exaggeration or a rehearsal for the current occasion? The army seemed to enjoy it.
Well, this is Washington, D.C., and we are in 2020. I headed down 14th street, but there was nobody in sight except for the workers nailing wooden protection over store windows. Bang, bang, bang echoed out on the empty street. I immediately turned towards 16th street, which has access to the White House. I wanted to go back to Lafayette Park as usual to measure the pulse. There were cops on every intersection blocking the traffic but not bikes and rare pedestrians. Then I turned on to 16th street. Holly cow! The block was there. And what a block! From one end to the other, 16th street towards the White House was sealed off.
There were police in anti-terrorism gear and a couple of dozen police officers on tall horses. Even the horses were wearing protection masks on their muzzles. Behind the line of police officers on foot and the others on a horse was the third line of defense; the military police. They are inadequate for an urban setting. Once they took over the front line, just a few minutes before the curfew started, I was looking straight at them. They did not know where they were. That was dangerous, I thought. They could panic. I trust the DC cops more. They know what they are doing. The military police and the cavalry were slowly pushing forward, but why? As I learned, later on, the usual peaceful protesting crowd had dispersed, having been pushed away from Lafayette Park with tear gas.
As you know, the reasoning behind this military maneuver was Donald Trump’s desire to show his face and challenge everybody who had accused him of passing the days trembling in a White House bunker during the previous days. None of this may be accurate, but the president of the U.S. looked like a dictator of a small, unimportant Latin American country. You can read about Trump here.
I continued to bike and count. There were no more than 500 protestors who were moving westward on I Street as police officers on bikes and foot were closing all other streets and exits. Three choppers were flying lower and lower in the air, obviously trying to feed the forces on the ground about the movement of the small crowd of gentle terrorists. I was wondering what chopper had the camera that was broadcasting the show into the Oval Office when suddenly, a Black Hawk flew over us. Soldiers with machine guns in hands were sitting on the edge of the chopper, their legs dangling in the air. Somebody in his younger years liked the film Apocalypse Now.
I did not. I decided not to participate in Trump’s circus and went home. Two hours later, my tranquil street where ginkgo trees have absolute domination became flooded by young protesters. It was hilarious. The police cut off access from both sides of the street I live in. They were trapped. Then the cops pushed. They were aggressive, but nothing terrible happened. People were helping and being supportive of the protestors. Someone on the street gave 100 kids shelter in his house, where they were safe until the end of the curfew. People in Europe remember this kind of gesture from the time of Nazi occupation. I was trying to talk to the cops, who were looking under every car. I told some of them that perhaps they sometimes their superiors are giving them bad and confusing orders, that what they were chasing was a group of worried kids. “The law is the law,” the sweating chubby cop told me. “I hear you, just try to be nice to the kids whose futures have been taken away,” I told him.