dc protests

DC Officials Decry ‘Outside Agitators' at Protests, Call for Federal Prosecutions

D.C. police have “intelligence to suggest” a van someone drove into a crowded intersection near one protest was at protests in Portland and Kenosha

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“Outside agitators” wreaked havoc on D.C. streets over the past four days, the city’s mayor and police chief said Monday, describing protesters who set off fireworks toward police officers, pointed laser pointers into their eyes and threw balloons full of urine. 

Ten officers were hurt and police arrested 69 people.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and Chief of Police Peter Newsham said at a news conference that the city will not tolerate violence of any kind on the streets of D.C. They made a distinction between scores of residents who have participated in racial justice protests peacefully since the killing of George Floyd and outsiders who have destroyed property and targeted officers. 

“We’re seeing a shift in who’s involved and a shift in the types of tactics used,” Bowser said. 

About 70% of people arrested at recent protests were not D.C. residents, Newsham said. 

An investigation is underway into who may be organizing and funding the agitators. Local authorities have been in contact with federal law enforcement, the police chief said. 

“We're going to do everything we can to get to the bottom of it," Newsham said.

In one instance after midnight Sunday, a man drove a van into the intersection of 16th and K streets NW, near Black Lives Matter Plaza, where there were more than 100 people. No one was hurt. 

Jeremy Vajko, 27, of Washington state, was arrested on a reckless driving charge. Video shows police broke his van’s driver’s side window. 

News4's Jackie Bensen reports no charges were ultimately filed against Vajko and a judge on Monday ordered police to return his van to him.

D.C. police have “intelligence to suggest” the same van was at protests in Portland and Kenosha, Newsham said. 

Vajko operates a van with “BLM” spray painted on the side and has supplied food and Gatorade to protesters in Portland and Seattle, he told The New York Times last month.

The police chief detailed 69 arrests and said 10 officers were hurt Thursday through early Monday. Friday, the day of the Commitment March, was notably peaceful, with no arrests that afternoon or night. 

One officer's nose was broken. Others suffered eye injuries because of laser pointers. Multiple police vehicles were damaged. The protesters threw glass, bricks and tear gas, set small fires and vandalized property.  

In a tweet early Sunday, President Donald Trump said D.C.’s mayor “should arrest these agitators and thugs.” 

Alarming words from D.C.'s mayor after peaceful demonstrations for social justice turned violent over the weekend. Mayor Bowser says the rioting was the work of outside agitators. News4's Mark Segraves reports.

“Clean up D.C. or the Federal Government will do it for you. Enough!!!” he wrote. 

Bowser said Monday that while Trump “considers himself Mr. Law and Order,” federal prosecutors are not prosecuting cases against agitators. She and the police chief cited a backlog of felony warrants at the Office of the U.S. Attorney. 

“Our officers do the hard work of making arrests. Your prosecutors need to do the hard work of prosecuting these cases,” Bowser said. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office disputed Bowser, saying in a statement Monday federal prosecutors "aggressively charged" 121 criminal cases related to violence during protests in D.C. this summer and brought criminal charges against five people linked to protest-related violence over the weekend.

"Mayor Muriel Bowser’s public statement today related to the United States Attorney’s Office reluctant to prosecute '68 outstanding arrest warrants' is patently false and serves no purpose other than to pass blame and foster innuendo. Since the protests began, this Office has never turned down a single case for prosecution in which there was sufficient evidence to support probable cause," the attorney's office said.

Bowser said she feared the country was “descending into a race war.” She called on the public to “tamp down Black versus white rhetoric” and said the president’s job is to “unite us, not divide us.” 

Newsham pushed back against the notion among some protesters that officers unfairly targeted them. 

“Folks who want to paint the picture that this was somehow peaceful and the police indiscriminately used munitions against them, they’re not being honest,” he said. 

The mayor noted, though, that it can be “hard to distinguish” between participants who are violent and those who are nonviolent. 

If necessary, a curfew could be put into place in D.C., the mayor said.

Additionally, the chief called it “abhorrent” to see video of protesters harassing people eating outdoors at restaurants. He urged those people and the businesses to call police. 

Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story. 

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