WASHINGTON – It was a quiet but discomforting holiday for Joan Lee.
"I can't put it into words. It hurts my heart," Lee said as she surveyed the barricades lining Black Lives Matter Plaza.
The Washington resident came here on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day like no other as the threat of violence in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration loomed and the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the U.S.
Lee, 50, said that on a normal MLK Day, many would be able to be in their communities, volunteering to help others in the same way King did throughout his life or marching in parades to celebrate his birthday and legacy.
Throughout downtown Washington, however, the effects of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump who believe the election was rigged couldn't be missed. Barricades and fencing lined the streets while law enforcement and National Guard members patrolled every block.
'It isn't the same': Cities host muted MLK Day celebrations after year of loss for many Black Americans
Perhaps the most notable closure on Monday: The King Memorial on the edge of the Tidal Basin in the National Mall, which was shuttered to the public through the inauguration because of security plans and the threat of more violence.
In addition to the beefed-up security around the capital, COVID-19 also forced many planned MLK Day celebrations to be called off or held virtually. A couple of portraits of King were plastered onto the side of the AFL-CIO building in Black Lives Matter Plaza, but no other signs of the holiday could be spotted downtown Monday morning.
"I'm here because black lives matter. Martin Luther King did a lot for us," Lee said as she took in the scene at the plaza.
Nadine Seiler, 55, who was also at Black Lives Matter Plaza, expressed fear on what should have been a joyful day to celebrate.
"We are feeling they are orchestrating some kind of violence on MLK Day just to show us that they can," Seiler said, referring to the FBI warning of the threat of extremist violence across the U.S. through Inauguration Day.
Seiler, of Waldorf, Maryland, said she and others have been at the plaza every day since October to protect a fence that holds many of the signs and posters from the summer 2020 protests around the country after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
The police response during the Capitol riot was a "stark juxtaposition" compared to the response outside the White House during the racial justice protests, she said.
"They were allowed to get into the Capitol, but we couldn't get to the Lincoln Memorial," Seiler said. "They were overpolicing us."
The plaza became a national focal point during racial justice protests when Trump stood for photos in front of St. John's Church after police had cleared peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park and the surrounding area using physical force and chemical agents.
In the days after, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed the street Black Lives Matter Plaza, with the words painted in yellow, bold letters on the pavement. Anti-Trump demonstrators have remained nearby, despite the White House erecting a new security fence around its perimeter.
Since the unrest, Seiler said she believes not much has changed in the fight for racial justice. She pointed to a memorial that stood in the plaza for Patrick Warren Sr., a Black man fatally shot by a police officer in Killeen, Texas, who was responding to a mental health call.
Still, Seiler said, she hoped Biden would bring about a step in the right direction. Before the Jan. 6 riot, she said she viewed Biden as "a good ol' boy" focused more on political connections. She said she believes the riot, and especially the disparate police response when compared with the summer protests for social justice, affected him.
"I feel like this has moved the needle a little bit, but I don't know how much," Seiler said.
Ira Turner, 53, was across town near the U.S. Capitol on Monday. He traveled to Washington from New York City on his day off just to see the fences and the National Guard presence.
"This is what Trump wanted," Tuner said.
"How can you lock down the Capitol? This can't be possible," he added.
Turner, a Coast Guard veteran, said it was seeing other veterans, including a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, that disgusted him most during the riot.
"This country fed you. ... And this is how you repay this country?"
While Turner said he was shocked by the actions, he saw it as another part of Trump's presidency, which he said represented some people's rejection of having had a Black president.
Turner reflected on Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan: "As a person of color, what does that mean?"
As he walked through the capital, Turner said King's birthday and legacy was on his mind. King would have been happy to see Kamala Harris become the nation's first Black female vice president but saddened by the military presence in the streets of the nation's capital, he said.
"When Dr. King made his speech during the March on Washington, everyone was properly behaved," Turner said. "No one stormed the Capitol."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLK Day DC: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial closed before inauguration