By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

Thousands took to the streets of downtown D.C., June 1, to protest systemic racism after the unlawful death of George Floyd, who died from the murderous knee of Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer who pinned his neck down for more than eight minutes, while other officers observed.  After a weekend filled with demonstrations, looting and burning, which led to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser implementing a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, peaceful protestors chanted, marched, distributed water and snacks and presented art in the name of antiracism and police reform.  However, the peaceful protest turned violent about 25 minutes before the Mayor’s curfew, when police forced protestors to leave so President Donald Trump could step outside for a photo opportunity.   

Prior to the “Presidential Pose,” which took place outside St. John’s Episcopal Church Lafayette Square, a place that suffered mild fire damage after Sunday’s demonstrations, thousands of people gathered near the White House. The church was a central location and rallying site.

President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John’s Church across Lafayette Park from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Priests and leaders from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (EDOW) were in front of St. John’s Lafayette Square offering water and snacks for demonstrators.

Church Rector, the Rev. Robert Fisher, briefly told the AFRO that it was imperative to “focus on the narrative” surrounding social justice instead of the mild damage at the church.

“Episcopalians take vows at baptism to strive for justice and to respect the dignity of every human being. We are here to support the cause of justice and to ensure that all God’s people are treated with respect, love and equity,” Canon to the Ordinary the Rev. Paula Clark told the AFRO in a Facebook Live on June 1.

That Monday afternoon, the environment was passionate, peaceful protesting.

People shouted, “No Justice, No Peace,” chanted “Black Lives Matter,” and knelt as they encouraged officers to “Take a knee.”  

Artist-advocates, such as street performers and painter James Mattocs, rallied around 16th and H Streets N.W. to protest through art.

“Most of the time I paint what I see and what I feel and that’s why I brought a lot of canvases.  And I’ll make signs for people to hold them up,” Mattocs said in a Facebook live interview with the AFRO.  Mattocs said while he normally profits off his artwork, he’d likely be donating pieces as the movement itself is so important.

The warm weather and impassioned pleas of people of all races and creeds made for a beautiful sea of nonviolent demonstrators.  However those peaceful protestors were alarmed when around 6:35 the President decided he would take a walk to St. John’s Lafayette Square without any warning to District of Columbia leadership.

“I imposed a curfew at 7 p.m. A full 25 minutes before the curfew [and without] provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of D.C. Police Department officers more difficult.  Shameful,” Bowser tweeted.

The President didn’t talk to church leaders either.

“There was no reaching out, no sense that it would require some sort of authorization before using the church as a backdrop in that way,” EDOW Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde told NPR.

When arriving at St. John’s, Trump simply held up a Bible and took photos.

No quoting of scripture, no prayers and no assessing of damages.

The faith community was deeply saddened, by what many are calling a presidential photo op.  Clark, who previously served as a public information officer for the District government recognized the President’s actions as a hollow effort at publicity.

“Trump’s action had no foundation in our Judeo-Christian moral values.  He showed absolute apathy for the welfare of peaceful protestors and was willing to sacrifice their wellbeing for his own selfish gains.  This action is antithetical to the love thy neighbor teachings of Christ our Lord,” said Canon Clark.

Despite the President’s actions, activists and faith based organizations continued to protest the following day and have no plan on stopping anytime soon.  EDOW, along with other denominations, will be hosting a prayer vigil at 3:30, June 3.  

“The people of God will be gathering to pray, witness and show solidarity, with those who are victims of racial violence and White supremacy in all of its sinful manifestations,” Clark told the AFRO.