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The People Who Live Here: A City On Lockdown

by Rosa Parks

On Jan. 6, 2021, a  swarm of red hats, striped flags, and maskless faces overwhelmed Washington D.C. There was a “Stop the Steal” rally that day in protest of Donald Trump losing the election. The events that transpired that day were nearly catastrophic, with Trump supporters storming the United States Capitol, and being moments away from congress. 

Before Jan. 6, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser,  wrote in a letter to the acting United States Attorney General and the acting Secretary of Defense that the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and unarmed national guard members did not need any help in securing and protecting the citizens of D.C. Mayor Bowser cited that the MPD was prepared to deal with large crowds and conflict due to the protests and civil unrest that took place during 2020. However as the events of Jan. 6 unraveled, more Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) and National Guard members were called in for reinforcements, and mobilized in D.C. for the following weeks throughout the Inauguartaion. Residents of D.C. had to deal with the National Guard members. checkpoints, and insurectionists.The insurrection at the Capitol only lasted for a few hours, but the consequences of that day have had lasting impacts on members of the D.C. community. 

Good Trouble Cooperative is an abolitionist mutual aid organization that partakes in direct actions, makes care packages for the homeless community, and more. About the Jan. 6 events, member Alexia stated, “We expected to be on our toes for the 6th …we put small groups on the street scouting potential high-need areas. Thankfully, there are other mutual aid organizations with the same goals as us, which made things a lot easier … The 6th really revealed our weaknesses, and showed us how to operate in a safer fashion”.

Another concern that some D.C. residents expressed was that the homeless community would be displaced and impacted by the “Stop the Steal” rally and the militarization.

Good Trouble Cooperative member Lex said, “January 6th was a nightmare for the unhoused population. A lot of essential services and organizations that normally cater to them were inaccessible due to them being headquartered downtown or simply lack of transportation or lack of safety in traveling. I think a lot of attention was specifically turned to trying to collaborate with people to assist that demographic.”

The most up-to-date data shows an estimate of about 6,521 homeless people in D.C. This number was taken before the effects of the pandemic, and COVID-19 caused more people to lose their jobs and some to lose their homes. 

In the weeks after the Capitol riot and before the insurrection, some organizations that the homeless community of D.C. utilizes shut their services down out of safety concerns. Miriam’s Kitchen, an organization that works to end chronic homelessness and provides meals to the community, shut down some of their breakfast and dinner services during the week of the inauguration for the first time since 1983. 

Due to the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, about 20,000 National Guard members were deployed to D.C. to protect Washington from any further protests, riots or civil unrest. These troops provided checkpoints around several D.C. locations and also stood guard for entities such as the Capitol and the Inauguration. These troops and the militarization of D.C. impacted its citizens in several ways. 

The DC Young Leadership Foundation stated, “having even more agencies and personnel in DC means that folks who are predominantly targeted by police are going to feel less safe and more uncomfortable in the city that they live in. And when you add that with the fact that these agents and guardsmen truly expect the worst in everyone, those law enforcement agencies are more likely to end up f*cking up and causing a lot of harm to the DC community especially black and brown folks.”

Aalayah Eastmond, a prominent D.C. youth activist, had just gotten back to her college in D.C. around three days before the military was deployed for the inauguration. Eastmond, who attended high school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and was a student during the mass shooting of 2018, had a flashback when she saw a military member. 

Eastmond stated, “I lost seventeen of my classmates, and I was directly impacted being in the third classroom that was shot into. I saw everything and I experienced everything. And translating that to now, seeing the military with that large gun across their chest, took me back to that day. It was an immediate flashback because I’m pretty sure it was the exact gun that was used at my high school.”

Eastmond was not the only person who was impacted by the militarization. The YLF of DC organization stated “There’s something quite angering in seeing your home being taken over by a military force. Men in camo holding rifles could be seen on nearly every corner for quite a few weeks following the 6th. It is the new normal.”

Good Trouble’s Lex stated “Additionally, it can be traumatizing to have to be exposed to people in full military gear with M16s or AR rifles. I know some of our immigrant neighbors who escaped highly militarized zones spoke of feeling triggered by the visuals.”

Aside from the mental reactions to the militarization, there were several changes to how one could get around D.C. in the days after the insurrection: curfews, checkpoints, travelling regulations, troops setting up in parks and public settings, etc.

Lex stated, “The militarization of DC has essentially punished people who had nothing to do with the right wing attack on the 6th. On the 6th, a city-wide curfew was issued which affected people miles from downtown. Any increase of so-called law & order is going to fall on the heads of the most vulnerable populations. A lot of public transportation was inaccessible. People didn’t have access to their jobs.”

However some citizens of D.C. don’t think much has changed. The city has had National Guard troops mobilized several times since protests and civil unrest began after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Alexia stated that “the militarization feels more normal than not, in my opinion. When I first began protesting back in May, we were only an unoccupied city a couple days. Once radicalized by such violent means it’s hard to see the city the same, knowing all of the operating and controlling powers are still in place.”

Eastmond also spoke on how protesting over the summer impacted her views on the militarization. She said, “We have been protesting here all summer and we have been brutalized by MPD and the military, the national guard has been deployed on us, so I was frustrated with the fact that they thought it was appropriate to have military here to keep us safe when those are the same people that don’t keep Black people safe.”

A few months later, the National Guard has left D.C. and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been sworn into office without any tried attacks, and about 400 people a part of the capital breach have been arrested.

About the lasting impacts for D.C. residents, Eastmond states, “The sense of community we have in D.C. is massive. We all know each other and I know this is something we will bounce back from. D.C. is a very strong city.”

Photo by Pierre Blaché from Pexels

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