MANHATTAN — Thousands of protesters and heavy security were ready to greet President Donald Trump as he headed for his home in the city on Monday for the first time since his inauguration.
Demonstrators stood in pens that police erected across the street from Trump Tower in Manhattan and lined nearby blocks of Fifth Avenue by early Monday evening, hours before his expected arrival.
Some carried signs with such messages as "no hate" or "impeach" as chants of "black lives matter" and "love, not hate — that's what makes America great" rose above traffic noise. Nearby, an inflatable, rat-like caricature of Trump stood by The Plaza hotel.
The Rev. Jan Powell, a retired minister of the United Church of Christ, carried a sign that read "No justice, no peace" as she stood opposite Trump's signature tower.
She said she was bothered by the Republican president's response to the white supremacist rally that descended into violence Saturday in Virginia. But "what bothers me the most is when folks like Trump try to silence our First Amendment right to free speech, either with violence or 'fake news' or hate speech," Powell said.
Still, she said, "I pray for him every day. We are both human beings."
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, was among the protesters.
Meanwhile, police had stationed sand-filled sanitation trucks as barriers around Trump's signature skyscraper and layers of metal police barricades around the main entrance.
After Trump was elected president Nov. 8, security around the tower ramped up dramatically, including the use of the sanitation trucks. A maze of barricades and checkpoints were manned by scores of uniformed police officers under the supervision of a mobile command center. The security precautions have been lessened somewhat in his absence but still have inconvenienced residents and business owners in the highly trafficked area, home to stores such as Tiffany and Louis Vuitton.
Trump, a native New Yorker who cherishes his namesake high-rise, said Friday that he had stayed away because he realized the impact of the street closings and other aspects of a presidential visit.
"I would love to go to my home in Trump Tower, but it's very, very disruptive to do," he said.
Protester Gabby Parra, however, said she was demonstrating to show Trump "he's not welcome here."
"We need to let him know that New Yorkers and people from around here are not going to accept his blatant idiocy," said Parra, a 17-year-old high school senior from Teaneck, New Jersey.
She said she feels the president dehumanizes minorities, noting that he launched his campaign by portraying Mexico as a source of rapists and murderers coming into the U.S. and that he initially failed to denounce white supremacists specifically after Saturday's violence.
Trump, under pressure after initially condemning what he called an "egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides," on Monday declared that "racism is evil" and described members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as "criminals and thugs."