A person holds a "Black Lives Matter" sign as as a heavy cloud of tear gas and smoke rises after being deployed by Seattle police as protesters rally against police brutality and the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
White House responds to protests with rubber bullets
02:47 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

President Donald Trump’s message of law and order has manifested itself in Washington, DC, in a way he’s threatened to do in states but has not been able to achieve.

In the nation’s capital, Trump has been able to more easily direct troops and a range of federal authorities positioned across the city to respond to protests stemming from the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in the custody of Minneapolis police officers.

The city’s status as a district, not a state, allows the President, and in turn the federal government, more leeway. Combined, at least 5,800 troops, agents, and officers have taken to the streets of the District.

Among them are personnel from the national guard, US Secret Service, US Park Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, US Marshals Service, Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Protective Service and the Transportation Security Administration.

Sources say the President is viewing Washington through the lens of the rest of the country, believing if he can prove that DC is “under control,” the rest of the country can be as well. There have been multiple discussions inside the White House over what authorities they can utilize in the capital city.

The growing presence of federal authorities elicited criticism from DC officials and resulted in a stream of images of authorities dressed in full fatigues patrolling the streets of the city’s downtown.

The move to deploy federal authorities in the district has been called into question by local officials. Washington is governed by the Home Rule Act, which was approved in 1973, and puts the district in a unique situation when it comes to federal involvement.

Crackdowns on peaceful protesters have created “a lot of friction” between federal and local law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official frequently in touch with the DC police chief, adding that’s not to suggest that they don’t all view protesters as having the right to demonstrate peacefully. But the federal forces are being directed by the administration while the city isn’t, creating a major contradiction between their law enforcement efforts, the official said.

Trump’s walk across Lafayette Park Monday evening that took place after authorities forcibly pushed out peaceful protestors has become a major point of contention, as local and federal authorities point the figure at one another.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday that DC police and her office are comfortable with agents they regularly work with during large demonstrations in the capital, like the DEA and the FBI, but she could not speak to the other agencies’ presence in the city.

“The thing for us to be concerned about is who’s giving the orders,” Bowser said during a news conference. “We are not giving orders to federal police of any sort.”

The mayor also said there’s been ongoing discussions about what the President can and can’t do regarding law enforcement.

“We are, how shall I say, examining every legal question about the President’s authority to send troops, even National Guard, to the District of Columbia, and if he has to make any other legal steps to do that.” Bowser said she has only requested 100 national guardsmen from the DC National Guard to “help us with the perimeter,” but has not requested additional members from states.

Washington has a population of 705,749.

This week, the Pentagon moved about 1,600 active-duty troops to the Washington area as the military is playing an increasing role in responding to protests in the nation’s capital. That’s in addition to about 3,600 national guard troops.

Across the district, military vehicles blocked off streets, troops stood watch at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and authorities wearing uniforms and vests of different shades of black, blue and green lined up in various corners of downtown.

“When you add police that look like the military, that are wearing equipment virtually indistinguishable from military, that’s what’s most disturbing for people to see. You can’t tell the difference between police and military,” said David Lapan, a former Pentagon and Homeland Security official.

“Having this show of force by putting the military up on the steps is disturbing to a lot of people, both average Americans and those of us who served in the military who don’t like seeing troops on the streets of the city,” he added.

The District of Columbia National Guard is investigating the actions of its helicopters Monday night that were observed doing slow, low-level passes and hovering over crowds in an apparent attempt to disperse those who were out past the city’s curfew protesting.

The Defense Department is not the only federal entity adding manpower. The Department of Homeland Security also deployed over 600 personnel from multiple agencies.

“While the Department respects every American’s right to protest peacefully, violence and civil unrest will not be tolerated. We will control the situation and protect the American people and the homeland at any cost,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement.

There were more than 5,000 “peaceful protesters in the city” Tuesday, the fifth night of protests, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said Wednesday. There were 19 arrests in the District of Columbia Tuesday night – most for violating the 7 p.m. curfew – according to Newsham.

Protests are not unusual in Washington. Historically, demonstrations have drawn thousands of people to the nation’s capital and the last few years have been no exception. In 2017, for example, thousands attended the Women’s March after Trump’s inauguration. And in 2018, students from around the country attended the March for Our Lives to rally for gun reform.

Often, applications are submitted to the National Park Service seeking permission to protest in a certain area. The National Park Service said in a statement that it hasn’t received any applications for protests taking place in Lafayette Park, or any other National Park Service in DC, but even there were applications, they couldn’t be processed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly identify the DEA as the Drug Enforcement Administration.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Vivian Salama and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.