Washington’s Pitiful Ferguson Protest

It seems likely that #DCFerguson will soon fade into oblivion.

When protestors gathered near the north lawn of the White House at 5 pm on Monday evening for a planned march to Dupont Circle, the #DCFerguson movement looked like a bust. The handful of mostly young white protestors appeared to be outnumbered by the media people in attendance.

Even around 5:25 pm, when White House police announced the area was closing, there were only around two dozen people prepared to take to the streets. A fellow in his thirties stood up on a bench and sheepishly informed the rest of the crowd that the march would now begin. He made sure to emphasize that he was not the leader of the movement, as this was a leaderless movement, of course.

At first they were almost indistinguishable from the large crowds of commuters leaving work, so no police initially took notice as the demonstrators chanted halfheartedly as they marched to Connecticut Avenue. The protesters soon made their presence felt, however.

Around 5:35 pm, they held their first “die in” at the intersection of L Street and Connecticut Ave. This only lasted around five minutes or so before the protesters returned to the sidewalk to regroup. Looks of confusion were seen all around as no one seemed to have any idea of what came next. The perils of the leaderless movement were apparent to all.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, two African-American men who appeared to be in their twenties arrived on the scene wielding megaphones, which were quickly used to summon everyone back into the same intersection from which they came. They rallied the movement with megaphone-amplified chants as the group re-closed L Street and Connecticut Ave this time for upwards of twenty minutes. The leaderless movement had found its leaders.

The impact was immediate, as the ranks of #DC Ferguson soon swelled to well over a hundred, a number it’d sustain for the next few hours. Of this group, there appeared to be around 60-75 core supporters, with others coming and going and participating to various degrees.

After closing down Connecticut and L Street, the protestors marched back to the even busier intersection at Connecticut and K Street, which was away from their intended destination of DuPont Circle. No one seemed to take notice. They proceeded to shut down that intersection for another twenty minutes or so, before marching back towards L Street in the direction of DuPont Circle. While gradually making their way to DuPont Circle, the protestors sought out busy intersections where they could “shut sh*t down.”

Upon selecting an intersection, they often began by staging a “die-in” where protestors fell to the ground and laid there impersonating a corpse. Often times, in between chants, the leaders with megaphones would give impromptu speeches. At one point, while still on Connecticut and L, one of the leaders declared, “this is not a race war,” a fact that seemed evident from the fact that non-African Americans continued to be in the majority.

At another intersection, one of the megaphone-wielding leaders denounced President Barack Obama for promising change but failing to deliver. He mocked President Obama’s plans to spend $75 million placing body cameras on police officers around the country. “What is $75 million going to do for body cams when Eric Garner was on camera from start to finish. Put that money into communities,” he said, before reengaging the crowd in another chant.

Indeed, the one constant—besides “shutting sh*t down,” of course—was the steady stream of chants. Some of the favorites included “No justice, no peace; no racist police,” “this is what democracy looks like,” “off the sidewalks, into the streets,” and “black lives matter,” among others.

Throughout it all, and especially in the first hour and a half, the police went out of their way to avoid contact with the protesters. During one of the first die-ins, one of the police officers told me that the police had orders not to interfere. “We’re supposed to kind of just let them do their thing.”

Instead of interfering with the protesters, the police focused on minimizing the disruption they caused by blocking off the roads surrounding the “die-ins” to prevent new cars from entering the traffic jam. If the protesters lingered at one intersection for too long, police began having the motorists trapped by the protestors back out of the area and continue on their way.

Later on, starting when the protest reached DuPont Circle, the police presence grew as swarms of officers riding bicycles arrived on the scene. Even then, they watched the protestors from a distance. The protestors, in turn, did not in any way try to provoke the police, or even much acknowledge their presence. They did, however, quickly disperse off the streets at one part of DuPont to allow an ambulance to get through.

Among the onlookers—both voluntary ones and those motorists trapped in the traffic jams the protesters caused—there appeared to be broad support (and certainly a lot of amusement) for the protesters’ cause. To be sure, many motorists honked after many minutes of being trapped, and a few even shouted that the protesters should all get jobs.

But overall they waited patiently and often expressed support for the cause. Metro bus drivers seemed to be the worst affected, as numerous buses seemed to be trapped at every intersection they protestors shut down. Whereas their patrons poured off the buses and began walking around the protests, the drivers often got out to observe and even chant along with the protesters.

One bus driver told me that he had regularly been caught up in the protests in recent days, but didn’t seem the least bit upset by this. “It’s alright. They protesting. Ain’t nothing you can do about it. Just wait it out.”