WASHINGTON: Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to converge on Saturday in the heart of Washington, where US President Donald Trump will host an Independence Day fireworks display and military flyover, while protesters will march for racial equality.
Disregarding the Washington mayor’s warnings of the risk of gathering as many US states mark a record number of new COVID-19 cases, crowds began to assemble early on a hot Saturday morning.
Police officers blocked off streets around the White House, Black Lives Matter Plaza and the Lincoln Memorial, where demonstrators planned to join one of the dozen organized protests in advance of Trump’s nighttime address on the South Lawn.
Activist groups pledged to hold peaceful protests for reforms following the May killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Millions of Americans responded in June by marching against police brutality and racial inequality, leading to widespread removal of Confederate statues and other symbols of America’s legacy of slavery.
Trump’s Fourth of July event follows a Friday night speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota where he accused “angry mobs” of trying to erase history and used the speech to paint himself as a bulwark against left-wing extremism.
Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival in the November election, struck a contrasting note with the Republican president and accused him in a Fourth of July op-ed of finding every day “new ways to tarnish and dismantle our democracy.”
“We have a chance now to give the marginalized, the demonized, the isolated, the oppressed, a full share of the American dream,” Biden said in a separate letter to donors.
In his Mount Rushmore speech, Trump made little mention of the pandemic that has hit his re-election hopes, even as COVID-19 moved further into Trump’s inner circle. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior campaign official and the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., tested positive in South Dakota before the event.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser had tried to dissuade the Trump administration from holding the fireworks display over the National Mall and informed the Department of the Interior that it went against health officials’ guidance amid the pandemic.
Apart from fireworks spectators, activists of different stripes also appeared willing to disregard the health warnings.
Roar of the Deplorables, a bikers group, said via social media that they, too, were planning to gather in Washington on Saturday to stand in protest against what they call “the anti-Trump regime” and to celebrate the nation’s birthday.
Freedom Fighters DC, a new activist group which seeks to rally an ethnically diverse generation of supporters behind liberty for all people, especially the Black population of Washington, is one of the anti-racism groups ignoring the mayor’s heed to refrain from gathering.
“Black folks are not free from the chains of oppression, so we don’t get to truly celebrate Independence Day,” said Kerrigan Williams, 22, one of the founders of the group, which will host a march and an arts demonstration on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re marching today to showcase that Black folks are still fighting for the simple liberties that the constitution is said to provide.”