Inauguration Protests: Free Weed, Peaceful Blockades, Property Damage, and Police Grenades


With its broad Napoleonic avenues, austere federal architecture, and Jane-Jacobs-nightmare-inducing single-use blocks, downtown Washington, D.C., has the whiff of a dead mall of utopian urbanism even at the best of times. On a rainy January day when a television huckster is ascending to the presidency and the streets are largely empty but for red-capped enthusiasts basking in the reflected glory of the pussy-grabber-in-chief, roving bands of protesters, and police decked out in full riot battle-rattle, it is an especially strange place to be.

The thousands of protesters roaming around downtown today employed a range of tactics that ran the gamut from peaceful assembly to the mass-distribution of marijuana to throwing bricks at police and setting limousines on fire. Activists like to talk about a “diversity of tactics,” and that was certainly on display today, but the underlying consensus that held the various actions together was simple: What is happening is not okay, and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen smoothly.

Hundreds of protesters, many of them regrouping from mornings spent blockading the security checkpoints that controlled access to the Inauguration itself, took part in a permitted and largely peaceful march from Union Station to McPherson Square, two blocks north of the White House.

Meanwhile, a very much un-permitted anti-capitalist, anti-fascist march using black-bloc tactics set off from Logan Circle, and was quickly bogged down in battles over intersections with armored members of the Metropolitan Police.

The conflict reached its height along K Street at 12th and 13th streets, where police shot pepper-spray from oversize Super Soaker–like canister guns and tossed sting-ball grenades.  Some protesters countered by hurling rocks, which mostly clattered off the police riot shields.

In between volleys of ordnance, photojournalists, live-streamers scurried into the no-man’s-land, seeking the perfect composition — gas cloud foreground, masked-up kid frozen mid-toss, full-Banksy, helmeted riot cops a little soft beyond the depth of field. As the pomp and pageantry of Trump’s inauguration played out less than a mile away, an equally self-conscious and media-ready counter-spectacle of dissent, disobedience, and disorder unfolded in the streets.

In the midst of the disorder, a limousine parked on K Street near 13th Street was smashed, spray-painted, and set on fire. A police vehicle driving into the area also had a window smashed out before beating a hasty retreat.

By early evening, a spokesperson for the MPD said more than ninety people had been arrested. Though some onlookers reported both tear gas and rubber bullets, police told the Voice that the only crowd-control weapons used by police today were the aforementioned OC-spray and exploding pellet-bombs.

Anti-Trump protest will continue Saturday, though its tenor will likely change dramatically. The Women’s March on Washington is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of participants, but the permitted event has been promoted as a non-violent and non-arrestable procession.