WASHINGTON, D.C. — A crowd of 300 marched through city streets in Washington, D.C., on Saturday in protest of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids that were recently reported in their neighborhood.
The rally attracted an all-ages crowd, with toddlers playing in the Columbia Heights fountain as adults listened to brief speeches from clergy and protest organizers in sweltering heat.
And while President Donald Trump got his share of mentions, the primary target of the ire of those assembled was Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser. The District of Columbia is a sanctuary jurisdiction on paper, but Bowser’s critics have raged at her administration for not taking a more aggressive approach to stymieing federal deportation and detention efforts in the city.
“ICE out of D.C., fuera ICE,” the crowd chanted as it marched. “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all.”
Sanctuary DMV, a coalition of activists in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia that has risen to prominence as locals seek an outlet for their dismay at the hostile atmosphere Trump’s policies and rhetoric are fostering for both undocumented residents and Latinx families with legal status alike, took the lead in convening the rally.
It was at least the second time the group have staged a demonstration in the wake of reported cooperation between local police and federal immigration authorities in the District. Eleven months earlier, after a dozen people were detained by immigration officials in a series of surprise sweeps in the Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods, a similar rally blocked rush-hour traffic on a Monday night.
The 2018 event was more hastily arranged and featured a rambunctious, angry crowd fueled by reports that Metropolitan Police Department officers had helped ICE agents hunt down their neighbors. Such cooperation would have run directly counter to the city’s sanctuary policies, and Bowser’s administration disputed the report at the time.
Saturday’s redux came together off the back of a weekend where cities around the country had braced for dramatic large-scale ICE crackdowns that never materialized. Trump had made a big show of the idea on Twitter in the days leading up to these anticipated sweeps. Across the nation, immigrant aid networks like Sanctuary DMV lit up with activity and anticipation.
In the end, the theatrically-minded president made a similarly grand thing out of calling off his ICE shock troops. A handful of non-specific reports of ICE arrests in the same immigrant-heavy D.C. neighborhoods trickled in but the massive showdown the sanctuary activists geared up for never came.
The confusion, alarm, and anger Trump managed to provoke through this head-fake found its steam valve a week later.
“Who here has seen pictures of children in dog cages?” one organizer asked the crowd, who responded in a mass howl.
“I assume you are angry,” she said, that “ICE was in our community after the tweet that the raids were suspended. But we are not helpless.”
The speakers read off phone numbers that locals can use to alert organizers and legal aid groups of immigration activity in their neighborhoods, pausing for the crowd to echo the digits en masse in both English and Spanish.
As the crowd mounted, a lone MPD sergeant appeared across the street with a hand radio. After chatting with a man who was helping to organize the rally, they agreed the route by which the 300-plus people would take to the streets following the speeches.
The sergeant directed squad cars to the relevant intersections, preparing to hold back traffic and deliver a rolling escort — a service D.C. police provide thousands of times per year to groups exercising their rights in the nation’s capital.
MPD holds a mixed and complex reputation, on the one hand regarded as the most disciplined and experienced department in the country at handling “First Amendment activity” and on the other a violent, defiant, and secretive presence in the poorest and blackest pockets of this rapidly gentrifying city.
At the margins of the anti-ICE rally, local anti-fascists handed out pamphlets marked #AllOutDC to warn that the neo-fascist Proud Boys plan to rally in large numbers downtown on the following Saturday. From the police’s perspective — and from this city’s recent experience — that event will pose a much more serious threat to public order than did Saturday’s immigration march.
But it isn’t just the anarchist fringe that has reason to be suspicious of MPD these days, as Stop Police Terror Project organizer Sean Blackmon reminded the crowd in Columbia Heights.
“It is no coincidence that the ICE agency, whose job it is to rain terror on immigrants, have joined forces with the Metropolitan Police Department, whose job it is to rain terror on black residents of Washington, D.C.,” Blackmon said, before handing the microphone to a woman who translated his remarks to Spanish.
“Remember that we have no help coming from Mayor Muriel Bowser,” Blackmon said. “Which means our movement has to be based on each other.”
Later, as the marchers stepped off from the square and the fountains to crawl westward down Park Rd and wheel south onto 16th Street, a trio of young women trailed a hundred yards behind. They wore blue medical gloves and carried paintbrushes soaked in glue, slapping flyers for the Sanctuary DMV hotlines and legal aid allies up wherever they could find space on public utility boxes.