WASHINGTON • A mounting wave of protests demanding police reforms after the killing of a black man in Minneapolis has swept across the United States, building on the momentum of huge demonstrations across the country in the preceding days.
In response, a majority of city council members in Minneapolis on Sunday pledged to abolish the police department, while in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters he would shift an unspecified amount of money out of the police budget and reallocate it to youth and social services in communities of colour.
In some of the largest protests yet seen across the US, a near-festive tone prevailed over the weekend. Most unfolded with no major violence, in sharp contrast to heated clashes between marchers and police in previous days.
Curfews were removed in New York and other major cities including Philadelphia and Chicago.
The outpouring of protests followed the May 25 killing of Mr George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a white officer used his knee to pin him down by the neck for nearly nine minutes.
A bystander’s cellphone captured the scene as Mr Floyd pleaded with the officer, choking out the words “I can’t breathe”.
“I have cops in my family, I do believe in a police presence,” said black air force veteran Nikky Williams, who marched in Washington on Sunday. “But I do think that reform has got to happen.”
The protests have deepened a political crisis for President Donald Trump, who repeatedly threatened to order active duty troops onto the streets.
Mr Trump took to Twitter to lash out at the boss of the National Football League (NFL), America’s biggest sport, who, in a sign of a cultural shift, swung behind protesting players and adopted their slogan “Black Lives Matter”.
Mr Trump has used the Black Lives Matter protest movement as a foil for years to promote himself as a law-and-order candidate.
When black football players knelt during the national anthem to protest against police brutality in 2016, Mr Trump denounced them with an expletive and the NFL effectively took his side, telling players to stand or stay off the field for the song.
TIME FOR CHANGE
I have cops in my family, I do believe in a police presence. But I do think that reform has got to happen.
BLACK AIR FORCE VETERAN NIKKY WILLIAMS, who marched in Washington on Sunday.
Over the weekend, the NFL issued a video of commissioner Roger Goodell apologising for failing to listen to black players. “We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter,” Mr Goodell said.
Mr Trump fired back overnight.
“Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be OK for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?” he tweeted.
In the nation’s capital, a large and diverse gathering of protesters packed streets near the White House, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “I can’t breathe”. A newly erected fence around the White House was decorated by protesters with signs, including some that read, “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace”.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney marched alongside evangelical Christians in Washington on Sunday, telling the Washington Post that he wanted to find “a way to end violence and brutality, and to make sure that people understand that black lives matter”.
A common theme of weekend rallies was a determination to transform outrage over Mr Floyd’s death into a broader movement seeking far-reaching reforms to the US criminal justice system and its treatment of minorities.
The intensity of protests over the past week began to ebb last Wednesday after prosecutors in Minneapolis arrested all four police officers implicated in Mr Floyd’s death.
Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneed Mr Floyd, was charged with second-degree murder.
The renewed calls for racial equality are breaking out across the country as the US reopens after weeks of unprecedented lockdowns for the coronavirus pandemic and just five months before the Nov 3 presidential election.
Former US president Barack Obama said in a YouTube commencement address for 2020 graduates that the protests roiling America right now “speak to decades of inaction over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices in the broader criminal justice system”.
The duelling approaches of Mr Trump and his opponent Joe Biden over the protests and police brutality were on display yesterday.
The president plans to host a roundtable with law enforcement officials at the White House, while the Democratic candidate travels to Houston to meet with the family of Mr Floyd, before his funeral.