George Floyd death: Washington becomes a military zone as protesters demand justice

Despite heavy security presence there have been no clashes and residents of US capital have been supportive

Joyce karam

Hardly an hour goes by in downtown Washington without a helicopter flying overhead or military and police vehicles passing in a show of force against the George Floyd protests.

Friday marks a week since nationwide rallies started by the death of a black man in Minneapolis police custody reached the US capital.

Downtown Washington resembles a military zone, with BearCat vehicles, police cars and security forces carrying batons.

On Tuesday, taller barriers were placed outside La Fayette Park, a block from the White House, before military vehicles and soldiers were sent in the next day to block protesters from the whole area.

At least 10 buses carrying hundreds of US troops arrived in downtown Washington on Wednesday evening.

"We are from all federal agencies," one security officer told The National, advising to check personnel badges to identify their agency or military unit.

Another said their presence was to prevent looting and maintain peace in the city.

But reports on the use of tear gas and the downdraft from helicopter rotors to disperse protesters have raised concern in Congress.

Washington DC is not a state, so sending in federal troops does not require local authorisation.

The city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, rejected the mobilisation and called for the state to override President Donald Trump’s decision.

"While the federal government continues to militarise our city because of the lack of statehood, we know this: violence will not solve violence," Ms Bowser wrote on Twitter.

The protesters were also taken aback by the military presence.

“We are peaceful, we want to talk to the police,” said Michael, a young black man who marched in every protest since last Friday.

“We are not violent, we are just tired of injustice and being profiled."

Joyce Karam

Michael said he wanted answers and not just about the death of George Floyd.

“Why did they let George Zimmerman go? Why do they want to shut us up?” he asked.

Mr Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Sanford, Florida, in 2012 but was acquitted in court.

Ever since they were blocked from La Fayette Park, the protesters have been marching across Washington.

The diverse crowd reflects the fabric of the city, with a large black American population but also a significant white and Hispanic presence.

Joyce karam

Washington residents have been embracing and supportive of the protests.

A few blocks from the White House, Omar was offering beans and rice cooked for the protesters.

Mateo, a former Washington resident who moved to neighbouring Virginia, drove for 45 minutes with her sick husband to deliver water bottles to those marching in scorching summer heat.

Joyce Karam

Churches, shops and residents are leaving food and water outside for those in need.

On Swann Street, a hero emerged. Resident Rahul Dubey welcomed nearly 70 people into his house on Monday to prevent their arrest for breaching the curfew.

Mr Dubey's neighbours sent pizzas, and they sang songs and left at 6am after the curfew ended.

The protesters in the capital say they are not afraid of the military and there have been no fatal clashes between them.

For now they will continue marching, buoyed by local and national support, to achieve criminal justice reform.