WASHINGTON — For days now, the news coverage across the nation has been dominated with footage of protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police. In D.C., protests have waged on for six days straight. Some nights have been marked by violence and looting, but many more hours have remained peaceful and emotional.
All across the city, police officers can be seen standing shoulder-to-shoulder squaring off with protesters, with both sides fully prepared to stand their ground.
It's a fair question to wonder if the two sides are listening to one another out there. But at the foot of the Capitol steps Wednesday night, powerful and civil discourse was being had.
"What are you doing as a black man with that badge on, what are you doing to change this?"
The question was posed from one young woman to an African American officer, standing with a few of his colleagues at a fence that separated his brothers in blue from protesters.
"I realize that in police departments across the nation -- hell across the world -- there are racists in those police departments," the officer said. "And if you think you can change something from the outside, you're not going to make anything happen. A man just four years ago was in that White House that wasn't designed for him. You have to start somewhere."
The conversation continued, discussing how much power an individual black man or woman truly has in today's America and how many black deaths it would take to see real change.
"John Madison said the difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice," the officer said. "That one man, even though he should not have had to sacrifice, that one man's unfortunate sacrifice sparked a movement .... from LA to London. Nobody knew this man two weeks ago, so don't say that you're not a changemaker."
The crowd pressed on, pointing out that their march wasn't just for George Floyd.
"This is not one man's doing," a female protester said. "This is a history of beating us down."
"It infuriates me inside when I think about it," the officer responded. "As a black man in this uniform, I make sure that when I'm dealing with black and brown people, even if they committed a crime, they are still human beings. They are still entitled to a level of respect. If I have to take someone's freedom because they committed a crime, that doesn't give me the authority to take their life."
When protesters seemed dissatisfied with his assurances that he was a good cop, and wanted to know what he was doing about officers who weren't good cops, he said he couldn't defend all cops.
"I'm not going to say most police are good," he said. "You don't know whether police is good until you deal with them. But I'm not that."
The protesters asked what they could do as citizens to effect change, and the officer encouraged them to hold their county councils accountable by voting.
"Keep walking, keep marching, don't stop," he said. "Do it for me. Do it because right now I'm here and I can't do what you're doing. But understand my heart is over here with you guys, 100%."
WUSA9 crews caught nearly 10 minutes of the conversation, and the full video can be seen below.