By Brooklyn Dippo, Jennifer Givens and Loree Lewis
WASHINGTON – Protesters worked hard to disrupt the inauguration of President Donald Trump Friday, beginning with peaceful protests that blocked the entrances to the inauguration and parade route and ending with 217 arrests and six officers injured.
Police officers used non-lethal crowd-control tools – including batons, pepper spray and flash bangs – to disperse groups just blocks from the president’s scheduled parade route.
Peaceful protesters block entrances
Many protesters exercised their First Amendment right peacefully. Among them was a group who joined together, linking arms and sitting between barricades, to block the entrances to the National Mall and the inaugural parade route.
The group chanted, “we will not be moved,” and, “this checkpoint is closed.” Some sang: “Remember the future, take a stand, take a stand, take a stand. Remember the water, remember the land, remember the future. Take a stand, take a stand, take a stand.”
Amy Quickiz said her fellow protesters blocked six of the 12 entry checkpoints. Quickiz, 21, a gender-studies student from New York City, joined more than 70 protesters who blocked the F Street checkpoint between 13th and 14th streets NW.
Five Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters chained themselves together at John Marshall Park, located at 7th Street and Independence Avenue, blocking the entrance. A group of women used purple yarn to tie themselves together at 10th and E Streets.
Although the protesters were peaceful, police began to force them to one side of the street so inaugural attendees waiting to get through the checkpoint could pass. Words were exchanged between protesters and police, but the protesters remained compliant.
Trump supporters attempting to enter the checkpoint expressed frustration shouting: “Let us through” and Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Some Trump supporters were able to make their way through the protesters peacefully while others tried to shove their way in.
Quickiz said she experienced one hostile interaction with a Trump supporter.
”One with a confederate flag was trying to get in; the man holding the flag tried to push my friend and I down,” Quickiz said.
While the protesters competed to voice their concerns, Trump supporters stood around looking on. There was relatively little conflict between the groups in a mutual acknowledgement of First Amendment rights.
Trump supporters shared their opinions, often by blaming former President Barack Obama for personal grievances or yelling at the protesters to get a job. Others were intrigued by protesters.
Donna Osak, a Connecticut native who used to work in a rubber factory, has been a Trump supporter from the beginning. She said the protesters were attention seekers who didn’t understand their cause.
“All of these people are too young to know what the country has been through with all of the other presidencies,” Osak said. “I don’t know what they see. They’re doing it to get attention. They’re doing it as a walk out, like I did in the ‘70s. I don’t know what they see. They think that we’re Satan or something.”
Osak is optimistic that Trump will be able to restore factory jobs to the United States and fix the country. She said that she lost her job when a local rubber factory shut down and moved operations to China, and that the Obama administration did nothing to help her. She said she felt marginalized by America’s first African- American president and blamed him for divisions in the country.
“I never saw so much racial divide until Obama came, and all of the sudden it’s blacks versus whites. And it was never like that before. And, why? Obama became president and all of the sudden it’s blacks against whites. It’s cops against everyone else – or blacks – and I never saw that before,” she said.
While some Trump supporters focused on the divisiveness of the protests, others chose to focus on bipartisan issues. Luke Elliott, a college student who traveled from Nashville to the inauguration, hopes that the new administration will bring about change for all Americans.
“People are frustrated in this country,” Elliot said. “Income inequality has gone up ten percent since the ‘70s. There’s some common ground, and I hope the country can unite.”
Elliot, who was a Marco Rubio delegate before Trump won the Republican party’s nomination, walked alongside protesters for nearly a mile despite being told by them to leave. He said he was interested in learning about their causes, many with which he agrees.
“I have no trouble with gay marriage or anything like that. I don’t like the way he talks about women and minorities. I think it’s inappropriate,” he said.
His friend Matthew Mullinger said he showed up to the inauguration with an open mind. He agreed that American politicians have a problem listening to the populace, and that people have a hard time listening to each other. He said that it is this lack of understanding that best explains why Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the election.
“If [Democrats] would have gone out and put this much work into understanding [working-class] people, into understanding what their lives was like, what they needed, then they probably would have had a much better chance of winning, but they just focused on her core demographic and didn’t give any thought, any action to any of the people who are going to be traditionally voting Democrat,” Mullinger said.
Trump supporters said the new president would ultimately be a unifying figure. Jessica Zhan who is visiting from Boston, couldn’t understand why the protesters felt the way they did, but she supported their right to air their grievances.
“I don’t think our new president is racist, sexist – I don’t think any of that,” Zhan said. “Everybody should have the freedom to show their opinion – that’s fine. Just respect each other peacefully.”
What started as permitted and peaceful protests throughout the day turned violent when a few protesters began vandalizing businesses and resisting police.
Protesters threw bricks and rocks through the windows of a Bank of America and Starbucks, and smashed multiple ATMs. A comedian who goes by the pseudonym “Ugly Man” was heading back to the vandalized Starbucks for another pastry when he found the windows smashed.
“I was sitting there enjoying my chocolate croissant and my French vanilla coffee and I wanted another one. So I went back and I started to hear explosions and big booms. They said it was tear gas. I went to Starbucks and all the windows were broken in Starbucks and Bank of America next door,” he said. “I didn’t really know what was going on. I think that is so stupid – damaging public property, that’s unlawful. That is what we have Congressmen for. If you have something to say go talk to your Congressman; don’t damage personal property.”
A block away, the windows of a limousine were broken and an hour later the vehicle was set on fire. Several trash cans and newspaper racks were dragged into the middle of the street and torched in the same area. Protesters purchased Trump paraphernalia and then added it as kindling to the fire.
At one point a police van approached the burning pile in the street, and protesters responded by breaking the vehicle’s driver and passenger windows.
“Today is a day of anger for me,” said Yvonne Slosarski, a D.C. resident and protester, who watched the scene unfold. “It was a day of mourning yesterday – mourning the possibility that we could be better even though we are never as good as we want to be. I think today is just a stark reality … sort of showing its face about our inability as a country to embrace diversity, try to care for our citizens and be a safe space.”
Andrew Stevens, a Trump supporter who traveled from North Carolina for the inauguration, was confused by the more aggressive protesters.
“They’re destroying public property, which doesn’t make sense. They’re burning things and making horrible chemicals that are going into the air. I assume there’s some environmental aspect to [their protest], and they’re doing horrible things for that. And, I don’t understand what they’re protesting,” Stevens said. “Maybe too much spare time on everybody’s hands. I don’t get what they’re doing – who they’re trying to fight, what they’re trying to fight or who they’re against.”
On K Street, between 12th and 14th, protesters were cornered by police forces who came out in full riot gear, with horses and a few military vehicles. In an attempt to disperse the crowds, police used pepper spray and flash bangs.
One restaurant owner on K Street opened his doors for peaceful protesters to hide out when the situation escalated. Kazi Mannan, the owner of Pakistani-Indian Mayur Kabob House, welcomed people in and then kept the doors locked to protect those seeking shelter.
“This started yesterday and we saw a really tense moment now,” Mannan said. “Everybody is scared and police is really kind of not treating people nicely. They are being very brutal. We are the preacher in the world saying we love democracy and I think this is not democracy. These are peaceful protesters they are not really bothering anybody. They are just trying to express their views. They should have a right to let them. This is not right.”
Julian, 26, from Nashville, who declined to share his last name, showed up on the corner of K and 12th streets after hearing that the police were containing other peaceful protesters in that area.
“There were completely peaceful protests and we converged on the corner right there – [the police] have been holding a couple of other peaceful protesters up against the wall for a couple hours so we started protesting [the police] holding them and all of a sudden they started deploying mace point blank and all those booms are tear-gas grenades and they are still doing it, as you can see,” he said.
The Washington, D.C. police chief has refuted claims that they deployed tear gas. However, protesters could be seen being treated for exposure to a chemical spray.
Protest leaders ran around instructing people wearing contact lenses to take them out in case they were hit with the painful chemical spray. Most protesters kept their distance once the police began using force, and others spray-painted the back of a military truck with anarchy signs.