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Protesters in front of White House tried to overcome barrier erected on Pennsylvania Avenue, clashed with Secret Service

Demonstrators remove the barricades outside of the White House on Saturday in Washington DC, during a protest over the death of George Floyd.
Demonstrators remove the barricades outside of the White House on Saturday in Washington DC, during a protest over the death of George Floyd.JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON - Crowds protesting the killing of George Floyd clashed with U.S. Secret Service officers in the nation's capital Saturday afternoon, the second violent confrontation in a little more than 12 hours between federal law enforcement and activists decrying police brutality.

Hundreds had gathered by midafternoon at the Capitol and began to stream toward the White House - a group that was young and included many college students, sweating and shouting through masks worn to protect themselves from the deadly virus still consuming the Washington region.

They tried to overcome a barrier erected on Pennsylvania Avenue, threw themselves against the riot shields of Secret Service agents and broke the window of a Secret Service vehicle. As the protesters' ranks swelled, officers carrying batons and pepper spray began to push them back.

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The confrontation seemed a prelude to a second explosive night in Washington, where an extraordinary scene outside the White House in the small hours Saturday captured the anger and divisions that have gripped the nation. More than 1,000 demonstrators massed along Pennsylvania Avenue, only dispersing after 3 a.m. when the Secret Service began to fire chemical agents.

No similar scene has unfolded within view of the decorous north portico of the president's home in recent memory. Later Saturday, Lafayette Square - the park in front of the White House where tourists could ordinarily be seen strolling between statues of Andrew Jackson and a suite of Revolutionary War heroes - was walled off with metal barricades, another symbol of America's dramatic veering from the normal course of civic life.

The second day of clashes erupted just hours after President Donald Trump, responding to the unrest in Washington, made a string of inflammatory statements on Twitter. He warned protesters they would be attacked by "vicious dogs" if they breached the White House grounds, falsely accusing District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, of refusing to let her city's police force help quell the demonstrations and appeared to invite his supporters to clash with protesters in the streets Saturday night.

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On social media and at an afternoon news conference, Bowser said the president had "glorified violence" with his comments, which she called "an attack on black Americans." She said his Twitter posts harked back to some of the darkest scenes of the Civil Rights movement, when police unleashed attack dogs on peaceful demonstrators.

"I'm just shaken that an American president would utter such words about fellow Americans," Bowser said.

Trump began his four-part tweet calling the Secret Service "very cool & very professional," during protests Friday night and into early Saturday over Floyd's death during his detention by police in Minneapolis.

Trump accused Bowser, who he tweeted "is always looking for money & help," of not letting "the D.C. police get involved" in helping the federal officers. " 'Not their job,' he quoted an unnamed person. His tweets also included references to "the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons," which he noted could have been deployed had the demonstrators gotten closer to the White House.

Bowser and District police Chief Peter Newsham said that in fact, the local police force joined with Secret Service and U.S. Park Police to form a unified command to deal with the demonstration in which participants toppled gates, wrested a riot shield from an officer and threw bricks, rocks, bottles and fireworks.

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Newsham said he provided Secret Service officers with equipment they did not have, including riot helmets. The U.S. Secret Service issued a statement saying "The Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Park Police were on the scene."

Bowser launched her rebuttal on Twitter, where she said about the president, "While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism. There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone."

At a news conference in the afternoon she continued her unusually forceful criticism of the president, calling Trump's statements "an attack on humanity and an attack on America, and they make our city less safe."

Bowser called the reference to "vicious dogs" a "not too subtle reminder to African Americans of the segregationists who let dogs out on women, children and innocent people in the South."

Demonstrations began again in the District on Saturday morning as a few dozen protesters met outside the White House. They included Jerry Collins, a 74-year-old deacon at Holy Family parish in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland.

Collins said he felt encouraged by the attention to Floyd's death and other cases of institutional racism. "I hope the groundswell maintains," he said. "It says people want change."

But by the afternoon, the number of protesters swelled to the hundreds, starting at the U.S. Capitol, many shouting "Let us breathe, let us breathe."

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The protests in the District were among those in many cities nationwide, The officer who put his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

In Richmond, Virginia, crowds damaged buildings and state offices surrounding the Virginia state capitol on Friday, prompting officials on Saturday to close Capitol Square until further notice.

A window was broken in the Barbara Johns Building, which houses the offices of the state attorney general. Also vandalized were the visitor's entrance to the state capitol, the Virginia Supreme Court building and the Washington Building, which houses several state offices.

Friday's demonstrations in the District began about 5 p.m., with a gathering of several hundred people. Newsham said that group quickly grew to more than 1,000 people who marched south to the White House. A few skirmishes occurred there before the group marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, then through several neighborhoods, a highway and the Third Street Tunnel. A group returned to the White House about 11:30 p.m.

The District's Metropolitan Police Department, which has nearly 4,000 sworn officers, routinely coordinates closely with the Secret Service and with other federal law enforcement agencies that help protect the nation's capital, including the Capitol Police and the Park Police. The agencies handle many demonstrations each year.

Newsham said his commanders worked with officials from the Secret Service and Park Police on Friday night to "collectively make decisions on how to proceed." He added the Secret Service had sufficient numbers "to control their line."

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The plaza in front of the White House along 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the park Lafayette Square are federal property. On Friday night, Secret Service agents lined a row of metal gates placed along Pennsylvania Avenue near the edge of the park.

Authorities said bricks, fireworks and water bottles were thrown at officers, and some demonstrators sprayed mace. At least one demonstrator was able to grab a riot shield from Secret Service officers. Others tore bricks from the street and broke them into smaller pieces.

The Secret Service said in its statement that six people were arrested. "Demonstrators repeatedly attempted to knock over security barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue," the statement says. "No individuals crossed the White House Fence and no Secret Service protectees were ever in any danger."

At one point, demonstrators were able to wrest some of the metal barricades away from officers. Police issued two warnings to disperse at 3:30 a.m. before the line of officers with shields advanced through park, some firing chemical spray.

Newsham and Bowser said they are prepared for additional demonstrations over the weekend. Bowser said the Park Police has requested assistance from the National Guard if needed for "crowd control."

Trump began his series of tweets on Saturday morning: "Great job last night at the White House by the U.S. @SecretService. They were not only totally professional, but very cool."

The president added, "They let the 'protesters' scream & rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone . . . got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard - didn't know what hit them. The front line was replaced with fresh agents, like magic. Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence.

"If they had they would . . . have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That's when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action. 'We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and . . . good practice.'"

About a half-hour later, Trump tweeted again, this time taking aim at the demonstrators: "The professionally managed so-called 'protesters' at the White House had little to do with the memory of George Floyd. They were just there to cause trouble. The @SecretService handled them easily." Then he seemed to encourage his own supporters to come to Pennsylvania Avenue: "Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???"

Bowser tweeted back, "I call upon our city and our nation to exercise great restraint even while this President continues to try to divide us. Our power is in peace, in our voices and ultimately at the ballot box in November."

The Washington Post’s Peter Hermann, Michelle Boorstein, Joe Heim, Michael E. Miller, Perry Stein, Laura Vozzella, Rachel Weiner and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.