WASHINGTON (AFP) – Masked, black-clad protesters carrying anarchist flags smashed windows and scuffled with riot police on Friday (Jan 20) in downtown Washington, blocks away from the route of the parade in honour of newly sworn-in President Donald Trump.
Washington police arrested more than 90 people over acts of vandalism committed on the fringe of peaceful citywide demonstrations being held against Trump’s inauguration.
Just before the parade was due to begin, clashes broke out between 400 to 500 stone-throwing protesters and riot police, who responded with tear gas – the second violent flare-up in the space of a few hours.
Earlier on Friday, masked youths emerged from crowds of peaceful protesters to kick over trash cans and smash windows of stores, a bank and a fast food outlet.
Two police officers sustained minor injuries as the fast-moving group whipped down several main streets, just a few blocks from the White House.
An AFP reporter saw National Guardsmen donning riot gear, as black-masked protesters blocked traffic and set fire to trash cans – chanting “Not my president” and “We resist President Trump.”
As the 70-year-old Trump, his supporters and top dignitaries gathered on the National Mall for the swearing-in ceremony, throngs of anti-Trump protesters also converged on the US capital.
Most of the noisy protests – including those by an array of anti-racist, feminist, LGBT, pro-immigration, anti-war and marijuana legalisation groups – were peaceful.
But a spokesman for the Washington police department said that “approximately 95 people” had been arrested for “vandalism and destruction of property.” .
“Unfortunately, we had a small group that wanted to disrupt the inauguration,” DC police chief Peter Newsham said in a video posted on the police Twitter feed.
“We have significant damage in a number of blocks in our city,” he said, while adding: “It’s a very, very small percentage of those folks who came here to peacefully assemble in our city.”
Black-clad groups with anarchist and anti-fascist banners could be seen moving at speed on the outskirts of the main protests.
Marchers chanted: “No deportation, no KKK, no fascist USA!”
The front windows of local businesses including a Starbucks and a Bank of America were smashed to pieces, as well as the windscreen of a stretch limousine, with sidewalks littered with broken glass.
Police vehicles were damaged and the two injured officers were attacked by members of the group trying to avoid arrest, police said.
Several demonstrators were carrying batons and other weapons, police said.
At least one protester was hurt and was seen receiving treatment for a head wound from paramedics.
The majority of protests in the city were peaceful however – whether people had come to register anger, dissent or dismay at Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton.
A 27-year-old financial worker from Tampa Bay in Florida, who did not want to give his name for fear of retaliation by his employer, said he was fearful for the future.
“There is nothing to hope for except for grassroots efforts to oppose him,” he told AFP.
Public interest lawyer Renee Steinhagen, 61, came down from New York to join the protests.
“I’m doing this to express resistance to the change that await us,” she said.
“This administration seems more extreme than any other. This is a simple act of resistance. It’s better than staying at home.”
Groups of Trump supporters passed by the protests on the way to hail their hero, and some insults were thrown, but the two sides kept largely apart.
Protesters said they feared Trump would be an extremist president, taking a hardline approach on everything from immigration to gutting public services.
“It’s a sad day to be an American,” complained 26-year-old Colin Hernandez, a Washington resident who joined a gathering a block-and-a-half from the White House.
A rally leader on a megaphone intoned a prayer while protesters mingled.
“In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America,” she said.
A few blocks away, Trump’s supporters chanted “USA! USA! USA!” as the Republican billionaire arrived at the Capitol to be sworn in as the 45th US president.