Washington protesters express optimism after week on edge

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Demonstrator dance as they protest Saturday, June 6, 2020, near the White House in Washington, over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON – On Monday, they were forcibly removed from the street by law enforcement. On Saturday, they danced.

The tens of thousands of racially diverse demonstrators who flooded Washington to protest injustice and police brutality reshaped the mood of a city that has been on edge this week. Bursts of looting and violence early in the week prompted a dramatic clampdown by law enforcement that gave the nation's capital the feeling of an occupied city, complete with military vehicles, helicopters buzzing low to the skyline and National Guard troops on patrol.

But on Saturday, go-go music — a distinctive D.C. offshoot of funk — blared from a truck that looked more like a parade float. Impromptu dance parties popped up. A black man shared a fist bump with a black police officer. People used chalk to write messages of support on the street.

The purpose of the protest was somber: to demand changes to police practices and pay homage to George Floyd, the black man killed by Minneapolis police. But the displays of levity, unfolding against the backdrop of damaged buildings marked with graffiti, amounted to a moment of catharsis for a city and nation in crisis.

Some said they saw the beginning of a new movement.

“This is us walking across the Pettus Bridge,” said Kendyll Myles, a 33-year-old project manager, referring to site of the iconic 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. “This is that type of awakening that our country needed.”

The scene on Saturday was starkly different from earlier this week when law enforcement moved aggressively to push back protesters from a park in front of the White House. Within minutes, President Donald Trump walked across the park to appear before cameras at a church where he held up a Bible, but didn't offer any prayers. The episode has been widely criticized.

As demonstrations are expected to spill into another week, there are questions about whether the scope of the protests can become something more durable.