The historic St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., was vandalized Monday night as protesters attempted to set up a "Black House Autonomous Zone" while a similar area in Seattle is set to be gradually dismantled.
Amid ongoing demonstrations around the country that have involved the desecration of monuments and the toppling of statues of historical figures in major cities, the pillars of St. John's Church were spray-painted by protesters to display the letters "BHAZ," video footage shows.
In the wake nationwide protests spurred by the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, riots in Washington led to the torching of a basement nursery at the historic church, which is sometimes referred to as the "church of the presidents."
The following day, President Donald Trump and a few cabinet officials walked from the White House to the church where he held up a Bible. Supporters of the president saw the move as a sign of strength during a tumultuous time, while his detractors considered it an inappropriate and exploitative photo-op.
Monday night's church vandalism occurred alongside an unsuccessful attempt at tearing down a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park. Metropolitan Police officers intervened before it could be toppled. And police subsequently established a perimeter around the demonstrators at the historic church.
"There will never be an 'Autonomous Zone' in Washington, D.C., as long as I’m your President. If they try they will be met with serious force!" Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. Twitter subsequently labeled the tweet to be a violation of its user rules.
On Monday, the president commented on Twitter about the vandalism in Lafayette Park, warning rioters that vandalizing monuments on federal property is a federal crime.
“Numerous people arrested in D.C. for the disgraceful vandalism, in Lafayette Park, of the magnificent Statue of Andrew Jackson, in addition to the exterior defacing of St. John’s Church across the street. 10 years in prison under the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act. Beware!," Trump said.
The murmurings of a protestor-established autonomous zone in the nation's capital across the street from the White House emerged following weeks of an occupied zone in Seattle called the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area, formerly known as the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone or CHAZ.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who previously backed the demonstrators and defended the zone as a legitimate expression of peaceful protest, announced Monday that CHOP would be shutting down "at night" and police would be returning to the East Precinct.
“It’s time for people to go home, it is time for us to restore Cal Anderson and Capitol Hill so it can be a vibrant part of the community,” Durkan said Monday, The Seattle Times reported.
“The impacts on the businesses and residents and the community are now too much.”
Durkan's statement comes after rapes, robberies and three shootings were reported from inside the autonomous zone. Horace Lorenzo Anderson, 19, was shot and killed Saturday in the autonomous zone and a 33-year-old man was critically wounded and transported to a nearby hospital. In the same area on Sunday, a 17-year-old boy was shot in the arm and was subsequently treated and released.
Police were met with hostility when they were called to the scene following Saturday's shooting so they could treat the victim and clear a safe path for emergency responders to enter the area. As police entered, they were shouted at and informed that Anderson had been taken to the hospital in a private vehicle.
"On Monday, Best seemed to pin blame for Anderson’s death on the Seattle City Council, which last week passed a ban on the use of tear gas and similar munitions by police, even though that law has not yet gone into effect," The Seattle Times added.
“A life might have been saved if not for the circumstances created by hasty legislation,” Best said. “Right now what officers have is their riot batons and their handguns and that is not sufficient.”