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The protests against unequal justice rocking the nation — that were triggered by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed man forcibly subdued by a Minneapolis police officer — took an ugly turn over the weekend. Many demonstrations, from New York to Minneapolis and Los Angeles, turned violent. Washington, D.C., was no exception.
UPDATE: On Monday, June 1, Mayor Muriel Bowser set a new time for a citywide curfew: 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Also, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said 88 arrests were made overnight. The antagonists, as he called them, were charged with felony rioting or burglary.
Protests near Lafayette Park and on 17th Street near the White House left a car in flames and significant property damage to downtown D.C., starting at the Hay-Adams and nearby businesses on Saturday night, May 30. Shops’ doors were smashed in and some stores were looted. On Sunday night, historic St. John’s Church was threatened by a minor fire and the lobby of the AFL-CIO building was set alight.
In Georgetown, protesters, some of whom were outside agitators and organized, according to Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, vandalized targeted stores and looted some businesses, as the town seemed unprepared for the May 30-31 nighttime assault.
On Monday morning, cleanup crews were again working on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue after a second night of looting in Georgetown. Sunday-night hits expanded to Major footwear, Pandora jewelry, the M Street CVS and Morgan’s Pharmacy on Q Street, just to name a few.
Sunday afternoon, May 31, was the first time that crime-scene police cordoned off some high-end shops in Georgetown, up and down M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, with tape. These included Kate Spade and Calvin Klein, broken into early that morning.
Plywood boards were installed over the broken front windows of some custom and vintage clothing retailers, including Ella-Rue and Sam’s on the corner of P Street and Wisconsin Avenue, which had been robbed. A new exterior framing was being quickly constructed in front of the Apple Store. Piles of shattered glass in front of smashed windows or store entrances, including Michael Kors’, were being swept by the Clean Team of the Georgetown Business Improvement District.
The vandalism and looting were done by organized groups bent on destruction, according to both Mayor Bowser and Chief Newsham at a Sunday press conference. “They seemed to be prepared with tools for breaking in and strategies for group coordination.”
By late evening on May 30, more than 1,000 protestors assembled in front of the White House; eventually the demonstrations resulted in injuries to several Secret Service police officers and in the arrest of 17 protesters.
“The looting and vandalizing of Georgetown and other District businesses have been lumped together with the protests, but, in fact, most of the protesters were peaceful,” wrote Georgetown BID CEO Joe Sternlieb. “The worst looting seems to have been carried out by professional thieves targeting high-end stores and using the opportunity of an overtaxed police force to strike.”
“Ella-Rue lost merchandise, especially jewelry and perfume and vintage, almost one-of-a-kind purses,” said co-owner Krista Johnson on May 31. “They broke the front door frame to get in.” No identifications of the looters had been made public, but, according to police detectives at the scene, surveillance cameras nearby are being analyzed. Additional police patrols will cover the area as well.
Sternlieb sent out an urgent message to all BID members on Sunday afternoon. “We have been told to anticipate more protests in the coming days but do not have any information on their timing or degree. So it is best to be prepared. If you have valuable, unsecured merchandise in your store, you should consider boarding up your storefront or removing valuable merchandise altogether and papering the windows.”
The looting happened just after the Phase One partial reopening of nonessential businesses and the rescinding of the mayor’s stay-at-home order, due to the coronavirus pandemic.