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D.C. Residents Discuss Living In Protest Areas

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The street address of the White House is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It's the most famous address in Washington, and lately the address of protests. To learn what people in the nation's capital think of those protests, we tried some other addresses on that same street.

Here's the sign for the exit - Pennsylvania Avenue East, one-quarter mile.

The avenue reaches into the eastern part of the city - hilly neighborhoods, some of them poor, others middle class, with curving streets of single-family homes.

We're at a suburban-type strip mall talking with people coming and going from the stores, a few which are open.

A woman who gave her name as Shae (ph) works in one of those stores.

Are the protesters saying something that you think is relevant to you and relevant to your life around here?

SHAE: I mean, everything - everything that's relevant to my life. I have to worry for my life every day because I don't know if somebody is going to try and kill me just because of the color of my skin. And it's not everybody, but it's a lot of people.

INSKEEP: She followed the news of George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis. She also followed news of protests that have included looting and fires.

SHAE: So when you have people who are protesting and you start seeing that you're getting pepper-sprayed, you're getting plastic bullets, you know, it's going to cause, you know, people to get really upset. People are going to start to react.

INSKEEP: An apparent sign of reaction was just a few feet away. A T-Mobile phone shop was boarded up.

EMMA TALKOFF, BYLINE: I can't see. But it does look like the glass is out of that door, right?

INSKEEP: A woman asked our producer, Emma Talkoff, if it was a break-in.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: They broke into the T-Mobile?

TALKOFF: We're trying to find out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh.

INSKEEP: The employees wouldn't say. Though, the police inside made the story pretty clear. Two women rolled down the windows of their car and told us they'd heard of more shops hit.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: They started looting not too far from here, down Minnesota Avenue.

INSKEEP: Down Minnesota Avenue?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: The Safeway.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: The CVS.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yep

INSKEEP: Minnesota Avenue - so I go this way?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: If you were to go down Branch Avenue, which is this road right here, if you take that straight...

INSKEEP: We followed their directions to a shopping plaza. A mural overlooked that plaza, the faces of famous Americans on a brick wall, which means that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Rosa Parks were all looking on as someone ransacked the CVS. It's boarded up now, but still open. People lined up outside for social distancing.

SHOLONDA MYERS: We going to just move the line from where he's working at back. So everybody move it back.

INSKEEP: Security guard Sholonda Myers (ph) was managing the line. People had to maneuver around two workers who were replacing a broken board on a window.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRILL WHIRRING)

MYERS: Looters, they came and burglarized twice.

INSKEEP: Twice?

MYERS: Yes.

INSKEEP: Last night?

MYERS: Last night and then the night before that.

INSKEEP: Two nights in a row, OK.

MYERS: Yes. If you do not need the pharmacy, you are able to go right in.

INSKEEP: So did they break the glass one night?

MYERS: They broke the glass the first day. They came and put this up. And then they broke that the second day.

INSKEEP: They broke through the plywood the second day?

MYERS: Yes. Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: Man. Is this normal for this area, this kind of thing?

MYERS: No, no. Even though this the hood, they don't usually be breaking in. What's up, sweetie?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Can I ask you a question?

MYERS: Yeah. Back up, baby. Put your mask on - social distancing.

INSKEEP: I notice it's not that people are, like, breaking down every single thing. They're going after pharmacies. They're going after phone shops, electronics stores. And they're taking stuff?

MYERS: They just hit the shoe store this morning. So...

INSKEEP: They hit the shoe store this morning, OK.

MYERS: Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: And when they went into the pharmacy here, did they take a lot of stuff?

MYERS: Mostly pharmacy.

INSKEEP: Oh, they wanted the drugs, the prescription drugs, OK.

MYERS: Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: And here's the guy working in front of us. He's taking down the...

MYERS: Which is going to do no good because they're going to come and break it again.

INSKEEP: He's taking the broken board away...

MYERS: Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: ...Replacing it with a new board.

MYERS: Yes, sir.

INSKEEP: You think they might come back a third time?

MYERS: Definitely. It's easy pickings.

INSKEEP: One shopper told us the violence made no sense. On our trip along Pennsylvania Avenue, she said, if people want change, they should vote.

At this point, Pennsylvania Avenue goes over this bridge and onward toward the White House. We've stopped here in a waterfront park, Anacostia Park.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Kids climbed on a playground set that looked like a pirate ship. Nearby stood Jeanine Francis (ph), who has followed years of police killings of African Americans.

JEANINE FRANCIS: And this is why I teach my African American 9-year-old to always show face and always be kind and always be pleasant, and always make sure that you're talking clearly so they can understand you. Walk with your head up.

INSKEEP: Just then, her son rode up on a bike.

FRANCIS: Come here, baby.

INSKEEP: Oh, is this your young man?

FRANCIS: This is my son Quadir (ph). Slow down.

INSKEEP: She said I could ask him a few questions.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

QUADIR: I think I want to be a police officer.

INSKEEP: Why would you want to be a police officer, do you think?

QUADIR: So like, I could be trained and ready for anything.

INSKEEP: Which did not surprise his mom.

FRANCIS: I don't have an issue with that. His thing is, now, I have to be on their side so I don't get killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED RADIO HOST #1: Two college students in a vehicle in Atlanta being dragged out of their vehicle and pepper-sprayed...

UNIDENTIFIED RADIO HOST #2: I couldn't watch it.

UNIDENTIFIED RADIO HOST #1: ...And maced.

INSKEEP: People in the park listened to the radio, which carried talk of police violence. At two picnic tables, several people had a pile of supplies as if to make a meal. They were really making care packages for protesters.

They got cold packs here. They got goggles. They got water bottles, snack packs. They got Gatorade.

A woman who gave her name as Aisha (ph) had bought dozens of small, plastic spray bottles. She meant to fill them with a homemade solution to help battle tear gas.

AISHA: Ninety percent water, 10% baking soda and a droplet of baby shampoo.

INSKEEP: Baby shampoo? Does that...

AISHA: Just to help kind of - because, you know, it's the gentle on the eyes, Johnson & Johnson...

INSKEEP: No more tears.

Aisha brought in friends from work to help her pack. She says she was outside the White House protesting on Monday night when police pushed back demonstrators to make space for the president to pose for TV cameras.

When the president said, I want to be a law-and-order president, what did you hear?

AISHA: I want to kill and murder other little brown children. I didn't hear anything else. It doesn't - he doesn't have any type of views or any type of - there's no balance. There's no peace. There's just use whatever force and violence you can. And that sounds horrible because children are out there. And I just heard, hurt children. Hurt people.

INSKEEP: One of her friends gave his name as Leland. He says he was not protesting until after Monday night.

LELAND: Right when I got the news that the president was deploying the military to D.C., I think something clicked. And it was like, it's time to just get out and do whatever you can. I don't want to look back, you know, 10 years later and say, yeah, I stayed inside. And I reposted a couple of posts on my Instagram. I didn't want to have to be limited to say that. I want to be able to speak on the things that I did and to say that, you know, I was a part of what happened.

INSKEEP: Now this man, in the park along Pennsylvania Avenue, is mixing tear gas solution and preparing to protest for many nights to come.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S "BREA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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