Tired of troops on the streets, Washington, D.C., names 'Black Lives Matter Plaza' outside the White House

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

After another night of protests — relatively peaceful compared with those earlier in the week — in Washington, D.C., the city’s mayor has escalated her efforts to extricate the city from the presence of troops and law enforcement officers who had been ordered there by federal officials.

“The very first thing is we want the military — we want troops from out of state out of Washington, D.C.,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday.

Because the District of Columbia is not a state, the federal government has different powers in the nation’s capital than it does in other cities. More than 4,500 National Guard troops from nearly a dozen states were directed to the city as demonstrations grew following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.

Washington, D.C., renamed a portion of 16th Street Black Lives Matter Plaza on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images/Assisted by City of D.C.)

Washington streets are also being patrolled by uniformed, heavily armed personnel without name badges or insignia to indicate which agencies they work for.

President Trump has threatened to send active-duty military into places where local and state officials have struggled to contain demonstrators.

Protests in Washington turned violent last weekend as mobs looted stores and set fires and officers responded with batons and tear gas. Peaceful protesters outside the White House were gassed to clear the area for the president’s photo-op appearance outside St. John’s Church on Monday.

On Friday morning, Bowser ordered the space to be renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. Muralists painted the slogan on the pavement in massive yellow letters that covered two blocks.

“There was a dispute this week about whose street it is, and Mayor Bowser wanted to make it abundantly clear whose street it is and honor the peaceful demonstrators who assembled Monday night,” John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff, told the Washington Post.

Bowser is the black mayor of a majority-black city with limited autonomy and no meaningful congressional representation. Issues around home rule are frequently contentious.

The city’s gesture did not placate activists. On Twitter, the group Black Lives Matter DC called it “a performative distraction from real policy changes.”

“Bowser has consistently been on the wrong side of BLMDC history,” wrote the group. “This is to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands. Black Lives Matter means defund the police.” Bowser’s proposed budget calls for an increase in spending on police while cutting funding to nonviolent community-based intervention programs.

Congressional Democrats have expressed alarm about the unidentified troops that have been deployed to the streets.

“The presence of these unidentifiable officials raises concerns that peaceful protesters might not be able to identify them as legitimate law enforcement officers, that law enforcement officers might not be able to identify each other, or that it might allow for other civilians that are ‘self-appointed assistants to police’ to falsely identify themselves as legitimate law enforcement officials,” Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker wrote to Attorney General William Barr, in a letter also signed by House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Barr defended the use of the non-identified personnel during a Thursday press conference, saying, “In the federal system we don’t wear badges with our name.”

An internal report published by Yahoo News on Friday showed that the 1,300-strong show of force outside the White House is a task force operation that includes U.S. Secret Service, National Guard, Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Park Police. Border Patrol, ICE, TSA, National Guard, Coast Guard, Federal Protective Service, TSA and more have been called in, says an internal Department of Homeland Security report dated June 4, which details DHS component deployments to Washington and elsewhere around the country in response to protests over Floyd’s death. 

Military troops disembark from tour buses and deploy inside the security perimeter at the White House. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Trump Thursday expressing her concern about the surge of troops in the city.

“We are concerned about the increased militarization and lack of clarity that may increase chaos,” Pelosi wrote. “I am writing to request a full list of the agencies involved and clarifications of the roles and responsibilities of the troops and federal law enforcement resources operating in the city. Congress and the American people need to know who is in charge, what is the chain of command, what is the mission, and by what authority is the National Guard from other states operating in the capital.”

The National Guard troops, who were originally sent to Washington to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic, have been housed in hotels at the city’s expense. According to WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle, the city is now refusing to pay for rooms in at least one of the hotels, the Marriott Marquis. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, which sent 200 specialists to assist in D.C., tweeted: “Just heard that Mayor Bowser is kicking the Utah National Guard out of all DC hotels tomorrow. More than 1200 troops from 10 states are being evicted. This is unacceptable.”

Bowser’s stance also did not sit well with President Trump, who tweeted:

Details are unclear as to whether Bowser is attempting to evict troops or whether she even has that legal power. The seldom-invoked Third Amendment to the Constitution, which trended on Twitter in response to Bowser and Lee’s comment, governs the housing of federal troops on American soil. It reads, “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” It was not clear how, or whether, it might affect the deployment to Washington.

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