WASHINGTON•Tens of thousands of demonstrators massed in Washington and other US cities demanding an end to racism and brutality by law enforcement, as protests sparked by Mr George Floyd’s fatal encounter with Minneapolis police stretched into a 12th day.
A Lincoln Memorial rally and march to the White House last Saturday with people chanting ”I can’t breathe” and ”Hands up, don’t shoot” marked the largest outpouring yet of protests nationwide since video footage emerged showing Mr Floyd, an unarmed black man in handcuffs, lying face down and struggling to breathe as a white police officer knelt on his neck.
Demonstrators rallied last Saturday in numerous urban centres – among them New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Miami – as well as in small, rural communities across the country.
”It feels like I get to be a part of history and a part of the group of people who are trying to change the world for everyone,” said Ms Jamilah Muahyman, a Washington resident at a demonstration near the White House.
One of the more surprising Black Lives Matter rallies was a gathering of 150 to 200 people in the east Texas town of Vidor, notorious for its long associations with the Ku Klux Klan.
Mr Floyd’s May 25 death has sparked a storm of protests and civil strife in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, thrusting the debate over racial justice back to the forefront of the political agenda five months before the US presidential election on Nov 3.
With the notable exception of Seattle, where the police used flash-bang grenades in a confrontation with demonstrators in the city’s Capitol Hill district, last Saturday’s protests on the whole took on a relaxed tone compared with those of recent days.
President Donald Trump yesterday ordered the withdrawal of National Guard troops from the streets of Washington. ”I have just given an order for our National Guard to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, DC, now that everything is under perfect control,” he tweeted.
”They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed. Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!”
More demonstrations were planned across the US yesterday.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
People have been kneeling and protesting and begging for a long time, and enough is enough. We can’t take much more.
MS KARTRINA FERNANDEZ, a protester near the White House.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
I think it is incredibly selfish… It’s incredibly self-indulgent.
AUSTRALIA’S FINANCE MINISTER MATHIAS CORMANN, on the more than 20,000 Australians across the country who rallied in support of Mr George Floyd amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The week began with sporadic episodes of arson, looting and vandalism in several cities that were blamed largely on outside instigators and criminal elements.
The police have at times resorted to heavy-handed tactics as they sought to enforce curfews in some cities, including New York and Washington.
Two Buffalo police officers were charged with second-degree assault after a video showed them pushing an elderly protester to the ground last Thursday evening.
The relative calm prompted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday to lift a curfew he had imposed on the city for nearly a week.
Still, anger in Minneapolis remained intense. The city’s mayor ran a gauntlet of angry, jeering protesters last Saturday after telling them he was opposed to their demands for de-funding the city police department.
Clashes with the police have only galvanised the focus of the protests into a broader quest for reform of the criminal justice system and its treatment of ethnic minorities.
”I’m just hoping that we really get some change from what’s going on. People have been kneeling and protesting and begging for a long time, and enough is enough,” said Ms Kartrina Fernandez, 42, a protester near the front of the White House. ”We can’t take much more.”
The rallies in Washington, as elsewhere, were notable for drawing racially mixed crowds.
”Especially as a white person, I benefit from the status quo, and so not showing up and actively working to deconstruct institutional racism makes me complicit,” said Mr Michael Drummond, 40, a government employee.
Hundreds of kilometres to the south, in Mr Floyd’s birthplace of Raeford, North Carolina, hundreds lined up at a church to pay their respects during a public viewing of Mr Floyd’s body prior to a private memorial service for family members. Mr Floyd’s funeral is scheduled for tomorrow in Houston.
Meanwhile, thousands more took to the streets in European and Asian cities over the weekend to demonstrate their support for the US protests.
Protesters gathered outside the US Embassy in London in a fresh rally yesterday to condemn police brutality, some wearing face masks to protect against Covid-19 bearing the slogan ”racism is a virus”.
Last Saturday, thousands had gathered in central London in a rally that was peaceful but which ended with small numbers of people clashing with mounted police.
London Police chief Cressida Dick said 27 officers had been injured in ”shocking and completely unacceptable” assaults during anti-racism protests in central London in the past week, including 14 last Saturday.
Many thousands had crowded into the square outside Parliament, ignoring government advice to avoid large gatherings due to the risk from the coronavirus.
In Paris, several hundred protesters last Saturday gathered on Place de la Concorde, close to the US Embassy, after the authorities banned demonstrations planned for outside the embassy and on the lawns near the Eiffel Tower.
Several thousand people amassed yesterday outside the US Embassy in Madrid, chanting ”I cannot breathe”, and demanding racial justice. Hundreds also filled Sant Jaume square in the northern Spanish city of Barcelona.
Rome’s Piazza del Popolo fell silent for over eight minutes – the length of time Mr Floyd was pinned down – with thousands of people taking a knee in memory of him, their fists in the air.
Australia’s Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said yesterday that the over 20,000 Australians who rallied in support of Mr Floyd last Saturday were reckless and self-indulgent for risking a second outbreak of the coronavirus.
”I think it is incredibly selfish,” Mr Cormann told Sky News. ”It’s incredibly self-indulgent.”
Meanwhile, dozens gathered in front of the US Consulate in Hong Kong yesterday in pouring rain holding photos of Mr Floyd and signs that read ”Black Lives Matter”.
The protesters left peacefully after reading a speech to the consulgeneral condemning police brutality and racism.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE