Inauguration Day: Peaceful Blockades Give Way to Violent Clashes

A version of this article was published by News2Share on January 21, 2017.

While newly-inaugurated President Trump set off along his Pennsylvania Avenue victory lap, hundreds faced arrest as anger against the new administration boiled over.

The deafening noise of police flashbangs filled the streets just blocks north of the parade route early afternoon on Friday. Storefronts were damaged, vehicles vandalized and set ablaze, and hundreds of people – including journalists – cordoned off in a sweep-all police response.

News2Share has tirelessly covered activism in the nation’s capital since its inception in 2012. The events surrounding the inauguration are the first time our team has witnessed mass arrests on felony riot charges and a full tactical response by police in five years of reporting in the area.

Inauguration Day saw dozens of anti-Trump actions focusing on a wide variety of issues. N2S producer Alejandro Alvarez gathered a list of every demonstration in the area. It’s important to note that a majority of them openly sought to remain peaceful, and stayed that way. Prior to the events detailed in this article, News2Share covered a number of morning checkpoint blockades which, despite palpable anger and tension, led to no major incident.

Late that morning, our producers received word of a mass arrest underway several blocks up M St. from the site of the checkpoint actions. A group of about 200, many whom were dressed in all-black, had been kettled by police after some pelted storefronts with bricks and bats. This march had been publicly billed as an “unpermitted action” by grassroots anti-Trump group DisruptJ20, with its destination and intent kept secret from all but those involved. DisruptJ20 had also organized a number of peaceful demonstrations including the checkpoint protests earlier that morning.

News2Share streamed from the scene of the arrests, where around 200 were arrested over the course of several hours. They were booked for felony riot, a charge which carries a maximum potential sentence of 10 years under DC code.

Blocks down the street, a bonfire of newstands and trash can let out a thick black smoke reeking of boiling plastic. A masked protester drags in a bench from the nearby park and lights a cigarette in the burning remains of a CityPaper bin.

He sat down and took in the view.

Time passed. Protesters stood neck-and-neck against a line of police holding their ground at the junction of 13th Street and K, five blocks up from Pennsylvania Avenue. Earlier clashes with police seemed to have simmered, at least for the time being. Protesters, press, and curious bystanders freely wandered in and out. A few young men dressed in all black start hammering at a parked limo with fragments of cobblestone. All its windows are soon gone, its wipers ripped out, and its interior littered with broken glass and used cigarettes. Another man with a red bandana comes in with a can of spray paint, and scrawls “WE THE PEOPLE” together with the anarchist emblem on the face of the now gutted vehicle.

Minutes later, the whole thing bursts into flames. Panic ensues.

“Get away, it’s a bomb,” somebody yells, the crowd sent fleeing into the nearby park by the thought of an exploding gasoline tank. A pillar of black smoke towers over the K Street office block, easily visible for miles. Police rush in to make way for a fire engine, pushing those still gathered off the roadway.

In about fifteen minutes, the fire is out. The smoldering husk of a limo remains, cordoned off by officers with riot shields.