WASHINGTON – Police Chief Peter Newsham said anti-police brutality protests in the nation's capital this weekend were free of the violence that marred demonstrations a week earlier.
Sunday marked the 10th day of demonstrations in the city since George Floyd died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. The unarmed African American man's death from the actions of a white police officer brought the simmering outrage over other such instances to a boil, and protests broke out in cities around the U.S.
Some of those protests turned violent. In Washington, some people hurled items at police, set stores and cars on fire and robbed or vandalized shops. But the demonstrations have been peaceful for the past week, even as the size of the demonstrating crowd reached new heights.
"As anticipated, this weekend we experienced the largest crowds – particularly on Saturday – that we've seen so far. There were tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the city," Newsham told reporters at a news briefing Monday.
Newsham added that he had heard a news report on the radio say the protests had been "largely without violence."
"I would correct that statement and say, 'exclusively without violence.'"
Newsham said that after 427 protest-related arrests from May 29 to June 2, there were just three since June 3.
President Donald Trump threatened on June 1 to use active-duty troops to quell the protests and "dominate the streets." And he accused some governors of being "weak" for not cracking down harder on the demonstrators.
After a week without violent incidents, Trump announced Sunday that he was ordering the National Guard to leave Washington, "now that everything is under perfect control."
Although most of the violence in Washington had already stopped, Attorney General William Barr on June 1 ordered National Park Police, National Guard members and other security forces to clear the area around the White House of protesters before Trump walked to St. John's Episcopal Church, which had been damaged the night before, where he posed holding a Bible.
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The scenes of peaceful protesters being physically forced out of Lafayette Square drew wide condemnation. Retired Gen. James Mattis, who served as Trump's first secretary of defense, slammed the president in an extraordinary statement that accused him of trying to divide Americans and threatening the militarize the response.
"We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values – our values as people and our values as a nation," Mattis wrote.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser objected to the deployment of National Guard members in the city without her request and after she had rejected offers of assistance from other states.
At Monday's briefing, Bowser said the National Guard members from outside Washington would be gone by Tuesday.
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"There was a critical mass of people here that were bent on destruction," Bowser said when asked why she thought the protests had remained peaceful for the past week. "After Monday, when we saw federal forces move on American people, there was a critical mass of people who were bent on making sure that would never happen again. And the people bent on destruction were outnumbered and probably left."
Newsham said more demonstrations were expected and the city was prepared.
"We anticipate more demonstrations as the days move forward throughout this week and we stand prepared to facilitate the peaceful demonstrations that we've seen in recent days," Newsham said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: George Floyd protests totally peaceful DC Police Chief Newsham says