Police and protesters clashed in the nation’s capital during Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremonies Friday — leading to more than 200 arrests after a faction of anti-establishment activists smashed storefront windows and threw bricks at law enforcement.
Thousands of Trump supporters as well as protesters demonstrated peacefully along the National Mall, but police said officers outfitted in riot gear deployed pepper spray and crowd control munitions to disperse a small faction of protesters who engaged in violent skirmishes outside the parade’s security perimeter.
The 217 people arrested during a clash Friday morning were all charged with rioting and were expected to appear in court Saturday, according to interim D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham. Many of the protesters engaged in violence exhibited black bloc-style tactics, donning masks to hide their identities and wearing all black clothing.
Police said the rioters came armed with hammers and crowbars and smashed the windows of several banks and chain restaurants, later dragging trash cans and newspaper boxes into the middle of the street and lighting refuse and even a limousine on fire.
At least six police officers were injured during the skirmishes, three when they were struck in the head with projectiles.
Earlier in the morning, protesters descended on security checkpoints around the National Mall, intent on forming blockades to prevent access to the Inauguration Day parade route.
Carrying a banner that read “the future is feminist,” protesters could be seen locking arms to form a human barrier at one checkpoint while Black Lives Matter activists chained themselves together outside another at John Marshall Park.
Though the blockades led to some scuffles between protesters, officers and frustrated Trump supporters who were trying to make their way to the parade, police did not arrest anyone for blocking passage, Chief Newsham said.
“We have to use our best judgment in these circumstances. If we can safely get people by folks that are backing passages that is what we try to do,” the chief said.
But officials drew a distinction between the lawful and peaceful actions of the demonstrators who chose to block checkpoints to spread their message and those who rioted and damaged property across downtown.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser laid into the few violent protesters, but also applauded those who got their message out peacefully.
“We will not tolerate violence and vandalism and the destruction of our neighborhood,” Ms. Bowser said at a Friday night press conference. “They can talk about any message, but stop destroying the city.”
Chief Newsham said the violence was carried out by a small group of rioters who “were organized and intentional” and were thought to have traveled to Washington, D.C., from elsewhere to participate in the mayhem.
When asked if she thought more violence could break out at the Women’s March on Saturday morning, where massive crowds are expected, Ms. Bowser said it wasn’t likely. “The women, they’re not coming here to destroy Washington, D.C.,” she said.
At various points throughout the early morning, checkpoints at 4th and F streets, 10th and E streets, and 13th and F streets were reported closed and law enforcement officials were directing spectators who hoped to gain access to the National Mall to other nearby entry points.
Outside a checkpoint at John Marshall Park, a line of young black women chained themselves together in front of the entrance. Other protesters linked arms and blocked the entrance and chanted “go home!” at people attempting to enter.
“We’re not blocking people’s freedom. We have freedom to do this. There are other checkpoints,” said Michaela Brown, 24, a Black Lives Matter leader from Baltimore who was leading the demonstration.
The blockades angered Hope Kolb, who traveled from North Carolina with her grandchildren to see her first presidential inauguration. She said she was turned away by demonstrators at an entrance to the National Mall.
“If we did this at Obama’s inauguration, they would have called us the worst racists in the world,” she said.
The violence didn’t break out until around 10:30 am., when a group of protesters began smashing storefront windows and igniting small fires along 12th and 13th streets in Northwest, just north of the inauguration parade security zone.
Dozens of protesters were chased and corralled at 12th and L streets Northwest by law enforcement officers carrying riot shields and wielding pepper spray. Metropolitan Police Department officials said those in the group engaged “in a concerted effort engaged in acts of vandalism and several instances of destruction of property.”
Just as Mr. Trump was being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, police began to take individuals into custody one by one, securing their wrists with plastic flexcuffs and loading them into police vans. Onlookers chanted “Let them go” and watched as members of the group were individually arrested.
Later in the day, violence flared again near 13th and K Streets Northwest when a group of protesters tossed rocks at police officers. Police donned riot gear and sought to push the protesters back from the area, but a group dragged several trash cans and newspaper boxes into the middle of the street and set them on fire. Later a black limousine that earlier had it’s windows broken was also set on fire, a plume of thick black smoke visible for blocks.
Aside from the violence, there were also a smattering of demonstrations closer to the inaugural events.
During Mr. Trump’s swearing in, a group of a half-dozen protesters in a guest section of the Capitol grounds began chanting the Preamble to the Constitution.
As Chief Justice John Roberts began to administer the oath to Mr. Trump, the protesters, clad in identical blue athletic jerseys emblazoned with a large red “R” on the front, stood on their white folding chairs and began shouting in unison, “We the People of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union …”
The new president seemed either not to notice or not to hear the demonstration, which took place just 100 yards from the podium and went on for much of the oath. The protesters had managed to get into one of the most exclusive sections of the event, reserved in part for the press and special congressional guests.
People around the protesters made no move to stop the demonstration, and it took about 15 seconds for the police to reach the demonstrators and escort them down the aisle and out of the section. Several were still chanting as they left, raising fists in the air.
As they were being evicted, one member of the crowd drew laughs by reworking a favorite crowd chant during Mr. Trump’s successful campaign against Hillary Clinton, calling out, “Lock ‘em up!
• S.A. Miller and David R. Sands contributed to this report.
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