- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2014

Politics intruded on a national holiday tradition Thursday as protesters demonstrated over the criminal justice system close by the White House as President Obama and his family presided Thursday at the 92nd annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

As security forces kept demonstrators away from the ceremony, Mr. Obama was telling the crowd that Jesus Christ “taught us to care for the poor and the marginalized, and those who are different from ourselves.”

“More than two millennia later, the way he lived still compels us to do our best to build a more just and tolerant and decent world,” the president told the crowd of thousands on the Ellipse, near the National Mall.

With the push of a button, the 29-foot blue spruce from Virginia was lit up to cheers. It will be lit every night through Jan. 1.

But on the other side of the White House, scores of demonstrators held a “die-in” by lying in the intersection at 17th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue to protest a New York grand jury’s decision not indict a New York City police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner earlier in the week. Protesters chanted “if I can’t breathe, you can’t breathe” — a reference to the last words of Garner in his videotaped fatal confrontation with New York City police in July.

The demonstrators then marched south on 17th Street near the ceremony on the Ellipse, where they could hear the strains of four tenors singing “O Holy Night.” One carried a sign that said “Post-Racial Society? No F——— Way!”

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Authorities parked snow plows along Constitution Avenue that served as a barrier to the demonstrators. Emergency sirens could be heard at the tree-lighting ceremony, a holiday tradition begun by President Coolidge in 1923.

Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland, led the crowd in prayer, asking God’s help “as we endeavor to make this a beloved community for all people.”

“Help us to both celebrate our diversity, while embracing what we share in common as members of the human family,” he said.

“Grant us the compassion and the character to listen to one another, to learn from those we do not understand.”

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson co-hosted the event. Among the performers were Patti LaBelle, Ne-Yo, Fifth Harmony of “The X-Factor,” rocker Steve Miller, country star Chely Wright and the U.S. Marine Band.

Mr. Hanks joked that he wants to star in a movie with Mr. Obama after the president leaves office.

“I’m hoping he and I can make a movie together about two handsome, bodacious cops” who fight crime by day and play basketball at night, Mr. Hanks said, adding he intends to call the flick “Mr. Clutch and the Touch.”

This year’s ceremony had an online presence, with girls across the country able to light up 56 state and territory trees at President’s Park in a program sponsored by Google’s “Made with Code.” Girls could select the shape, size, and color of the lights, and animate different patterns that appeared live on the trees.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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