Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham on Monday condemned “potential hate crimes” at churches during weekend demonstrations in which pro- and anti-Trump supporters clashed.
“We had a very disturbing situation where at least four churches in the city had destruction of property at their churches … that type of thing will not be tolerated here in the District of Columbia,” Chief Newsham said during a press briefing. “Whenever anyone attacks our places of worship, I think it’s unsettling for all of us.”
Destruction of property at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Asbury United Methodist Church, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church and Luther Place Memorial Church was “being investigated as hate crimes,” he said.
Two videos tweeted Saturday by Kristen Clarke, president and director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, show people burning Black Lives Matters signs. Ms. Clarke tweeted that the Proud Boys and white supremacists took the signs from Asbury United Methodist Church and Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, both historic Black churches.
D.C. Mayor Bowser said during the briefing that the sign burning “is reminiscent of violent acts of racism our country has seen before, and it is disgusting and vile and should be condemned by all Americans.”
The Rev. Lanther Mills, senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, said Sunday in a Facebook post that “it was reminiscent of cross burnings.”
“Sadly, we must point out that if this was a marauding group of men of color going through the city, and destroying property, they would have been followed and arrested,” Mr. Mills said.
On Saturday afternoon, thousands of Trump supporters gathered in downtown Washington for rallies, including the March for Trump and the Million MAGA March. Anti-Trump activists gathered nearby at Black Lives Matter Plaza for counterdemonstrations.
As night fell Saturday, fights between pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators broke out, which resulted in stabbings and arrests.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said during the press briefing that “[w]hat should have been a beautiful weekend was ruined by white supremacists who came to our city seeking violence.”
The police department reported that four people were stabbed over the weekend, and Chief Newsham said one “person nearly lost their life.” Additionally, eight officers were injured.
Police arrested 33 total people throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Chief Newsham said. The leading charges reportedly included simple assault (11), assault on a police officer (10), and one person was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon for using a knife.
The home addresses of those arrested reportedly included people from the District, as well as 14 other states.
A reporter asked Chief Newsham about “perceptions” that the Proud Boys, a far-right group, were treated “favorably” by police.
“I think it’s unfortunate if somebody feels like somebody was treated differently,” the chief said. “But there was no intention by the police department to treat anybody differently from anybody else, our intention was to prevent folks from getting hurt.”
The chief also said that officers “try to get between opposing groups particularly when it results in physical confrontations … [and] it’s very difficult when a confrontation like that occurs to determine on who’s on what side.”
Proud Boys International Chairman Enrique Tarrio, who is Black, told WSVN-TV Miami last week that members are not white supremacists. He also denounced racism “and any other -ism prejudiced toward people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin.”
A reporter asked whether the pro- or anti-Trump groups were the aggressors, and Chief Newsham said that “when we did have conflict, there appeared to be mutual combattance.”
“We had large numbers of folks who self-identified as Proud Boys, I don’t think we’ve had those types of numbers in the District of Columbia before,” he said. “We had smaller numbers, in my estimation, of folks who I would describe as anti-Trump groups. It was probably a ratio of about six or seven to one.”
The mayor also was asked to weigh in the city’s response to confrontations over the weekend.
“So we can talk about police tactics, but what we really need to be talking about is how, as a country, we are allowing people — Proud Boys, to pundits, to members of Congress — to continue to speak against a fair election,” Miss Bowser said. “This is a symptom of this hateful rhetoric, anti-science noise and people who refuse to accept the results of a fair American election.”
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