WASHINGTON — The Metropolitan Police Department has opened the entirety of Black Lives Matter Plaza back up to protesters. People who visit the site will notice one big change: A fence now surrounds St. John’s Episcopal Church at the corner of 16th and H Streets NW. The parish is also now guarded by MPD officers and concrete barriers.
Crowds have gathered around the church, next to Lafayette Square, over the course of this summer’s protests. It has been a site for vigils and rallies. On a few occasions, it has also been vandalized.
But the reason for the new barricade around the church remains unclear.
Ultimately, the new fence around the church was set up at the direction of District leaders. Kevin Donahue, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, released the following statement.
“The District of Columbia Government coordinated the fence on the public space around St John’s Episcopal Church to protect the buildings from any further damage. We will continue to be in communication with the immediate neighbors of the site to minimize any inconvenience.”
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety oversees the Metropolitan Police Department and several other District agencies and departments. Exactly what damage the deputy mayor’s office was referring to is unclear.
MPD alleged in a statement that Molotov cocktails and other projectiles were thrown in the area around Black Lives Matter Plaza Tuesday night:
“Throughout the evening on Tuesday, June 23 and into the morning of Wednesday, June 24, the Metropolitan Police Department facilitated First Amendment demonstrations at Black Lives Matter Plaza and throughout the city. There were multiple instances of individuals igniting of fireworks, intentionally setting fires, throwing projectiles, Molotov cocktails, and smoke grenades at officers in the area. In an attempt to stop these individuals, MPD deployed sting balls and OC spray. One MPD officer was injured and nine individuals were arrested and charged with Assault on a Police Officer, Felony Rioting, Burglary Two and Threats To Do Bodily Harm. MPD will always protect the rights of those engaged in peaceful First Amendment assemblies, however, those who engage in criminal and harmful behavior will be held accountable.”
An incident report provided to WUSA9 from MPD said one person, at the address of St. John’s Episcopal Church, struck an officer with a "plastic bottle containing liquid". The incident report says that person was subsequently placed under arrest for “Assaulting an Officer” and “Throwing Missiles”.
However, neither that incident report, nor any of the other five that MPD produced to WUSA9, say anything about a Molotov cocktail being thrown at the church.
WUSA9 has also had multiple crews down at Black Lives Matter Plaza at all hours of the day this past week, and while we have witnessed several fires being set, we have not see any activity similar to that of a Molotov cocktail being used.
Multiple calls to MPD’s Communications Director for clarification on the matter were not returned Wednesday night.
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington did say St. John’s consented to a fence being set up in the public space around its property. However, it declined to provide further comment on the matter.