Mt. Pleasant Riots in 1991

On a warm evening on May 5, 1991, two Fourth District officers approached a small group of men drinking in public in a small park on Mt. Pleasant Street, in Northwest D.C. The Mt. Pleasant Riots in 1991 were one of the biggest in DC history.

The officers confronted the men and began to make an arrest when one of the men being arrested pulled a knife and threatened the officer. The officer discharged her service weapon once, striking the man in the chest. As the shooting was being investigated, several onlookers were spreading a rumor that the man was shot while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. The crowd grew in size and became very loud as police officials and officers tried to get them to disperse.

The Start of the Mt. Pleasant Riots

As the sun set, a large group of vocal people remained and soon officers were being pelted with bottles and rocks. Officers tried to make arrests, but the crowd was too large and the officers, with many of them injured, withdrew leaving some of their vehicles behind in the process. The police cars were quickly overturned and set on fire as what had become a mob forced the officers back.

While officers regrouped and began to assemble into established Civil Disturbance Units, a 7-11 store was looted and damaged.  A pouring rain then fell that drove the mob away. Later the next day, Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and city leaders conducted a walk-through of the community in the hopes of diffusing the long-simmering tensions within the community.

Day Two of the Riots

The second day, however, would prove equally violent with rioters taking over the street, setting small fires, looting and damaging a Church’s Fried Chicken carryout and setting a news media car on fire. The disorder lasted for several days, despite a curfew, as officers pursued roving gangs who attacked and looted several businesses in the Columbia Heights/ Mt. Pleasant area.

Investigations Into The Riots

In the final investigation into the shooting that led to the disturbances, a critical photograph was taken by a bystander following the shooting. The photograph showed the man who was shot, laying on his back with one handcuff on one wrist and a knife laying next to him. This, along with eyewitness testimony, demonstrated that the officer was trying to place the man’s other wrist into the handcuffs, when he pulled the knife and lunged at the officer.

It was reported by the news media early on that there were those within the crowd who were trying to intimidate and suppress witnesses that corroborated the officer’s version of events.

Below is some of the video from these events.


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