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St. John's Church says it played no role in removing protesters from BLM Plaza

Some protesters say they will look at ways to work more with St. John's Episcopal Church on civil rights issues in the future.

WASHINGTON — A local church in the middle of D.C.’s historic downtown protests says it did not call for the removal of nearby housing encampments and protesters on Monday.

St. John’s Episcopal Church sits at the corner of 16th and H streets NW across from Lafayette Square. For weeks, crowds have stood outside the church as they have pushed for an end to police brutality.

On Monday, the District of Columbia started to remove housing encampments around the historic church. The next day, the area in front of the church, on 16th Street NW, was cleared of protesters altogether.

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Local activist Jay Brown said there was concern among some protesters that the church had called for the removal of protesters during a meeting it had with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office.

Brown met with church officials Tuesday at Black Lives Matter Plaza to find a solution.

According to Reverend Rob Fischer, the rector of St. John’s, the church had actually met with the DC Office of Religious Affairs to discuss how the church could work to better serve protesters and possibly reopen its doors in the future.

Fischer said the church never asked for protesters or people in housing encampments to be removed from the area.

"What happened yesterday was something that was not at all expected or asked for,” Fischer said.

On Thursday, the church sent out a message to parishioners reiterating their lack of knowledge that city officials would clear H Street, saying that the Vestry had met with city officials earlier and organized a peaceful plan to engage protesters that never was carried out. 

"We did not have the opportunity to finish executing that plan because on Monday the police began clearing H Street, NW. We were not aware they would do this," the letter said.

The city contacted the church Tuesday to offer fencing protection after protests continued late Monday night. The decision to agree to the fencing was done "after thorough discussion and reluctantly" wrote Rev. Fischer in Thursday's letter.

"While we hate both the fencing and the boarded-up windows, one of our main responsibilities as rector and wardens is to protect the buildings," it continued. "Our hope is to remove both the fencing and plywood as soon as practicable."

WUSA9 reached out to the mayor’s office to see if St. John’s local presence ever played a role in how it chose to handle Black Lives Matter Plaza Monday and Tuesday. We have yet to receive a response.

However, on Monday, Deputy Mayor Wayne Turnage, of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, did release the following statement on why the District started to remove housing encampments overall.

“We are always concerned when we have people staying in tents outside – it is not safe,” the statement reads. “It is also a serious concern if they are staying in tents in the middle of the road. Therefore, today, we deployed our interagency team to talk with the people staying on H Street and, eventually, to remove the tents.”

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A very small group of protesters did vandalize part of St. John’s Monday. However, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said such acts should not take away from the bigger issue at hand.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the most fruitful way to make your point," she said. "At the same time, there's no equivalent with the destruction of bodies that you can't get back." 

In the meantime, Brown says some protesters will look at ways to work together with St. John’s in the future.

“We want to have dialogue and conversation about how we can move forward,” he said.

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