Fiery clashes between police and protesters spread through US

Demonstrators shout slogans in Washington, US, on May 30, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MINNEAPOLIS (NYTIMES)- Protesters who took to the streets in Minneapolis for the fifth straight night on Saturday (May 31) met a more determined response from police officers and US National Guard troops, as demonstrations escalated in dozens of cities across the country - an outpouring of national anger sparked by the death of a black man in police custody.

Soon after an 8pm curfew took effect, the police in Minneapolis began arresting protesters and firing tear gas and other projectiles towards crowds, and the National Guard used a helicopter to dump water on a burning car.

The forceful response reflected the desire of the authorities to halt the violent protests that have spread nationwide since Mr George Floyd, 46, died after being pinned down by a white Minneapolis police officer.

There were still reports of violence and destruction: a fire on the roof of a shopping mall, a person who shot a gun at officers, and a group of people throwing items at the police. But state officials said around 11 pm local time that they were encouraged by the smaller crowds and apparent decrease in damage.

Much of the city was empty shortly after midnight. But even as aerial videos from Minneapolis showed police officers largely keeping demonstrators at bay, other cities were being overwhelmed, despite hastily imposed curfews.

Mayors ordered people of the streets in many of the nation's largest cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami. And governors in at least eight states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Colorado and Tennessee, called up National Guard troops in an attempt to impose order, often with little success.

In Tennessee, the building that houses Nashville's City Hall was set on fire. Two police vans in New York City were filmed ploughing into protesters. In Washington, demonstrators set fires and smashed the windows of buildings near the White House.

The police in Indianapolis said three people had been shot during the protests - not by police officers - including one person who was killed. And in Philadelphia, the Police Department said at least 13 officers had been injured during protests.

The demonstrations continued to escalate on Friday and Saturday even after Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was recorded kneeling on Floyd's neck until he lost consciousness, was charged with third-degree murder.

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President Donald Trump has harshly criticised the unrest, and Attorney-General William Barr warned on Saturday that people inflicting the destruction could face federal charges.

Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota said the people defying curfews and confronting the police were no longer protesting brutality but rather were seeking to exploit Mr Floyd's death for their own political motives.

Tens of thousands of people were in the streets across the United States on Saturday night, as demonstrations stretched from coast to coast in a national paroxysm of rage that saw buildings set on fire, businesses looted and an aggressive response from the authorities.

Protests have taken place in at least 48 cities and have reached the gates of the White House in the days since Mr Floyd's death.

The imposition of curfews by mayors appeared to be more widespread on Saturday than at any time since the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968.

- In Indianapolis, one person was killed and three others were injured when a gunman fired shots at a protest, the police said.

- In Chicago, protesters scuffled with police on Saturday afternoon, burning at least one flag and marching towards the Trump International Hotel and Tower before dispersing. About 3,000 people took part in the protests, according to local news reports. Some protesters vandalised police vehicles and left spray-painted buildings in their wake.

- In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a curfew a day after the police made more than 500 arrests. Police used batons and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, and Governor Gavin Newsom activated the National Guard.

- In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed implemented a curfew as demonstrators arrived outside her home to protest.

- In Miami-Dade County, Florida, Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered a countywide curfew beginning at 11pm after at least one police car was set ablaze near the Miami Police Department headquarters. Tear gas was used to disperse crowds on Saturday evening in Jacksonville and Orlando.

- In Washington, the National Guard was deployed outside the White House, where chanting crowds clashed with the Secret Service and attacked a Fox News reporter. Fires were set in Lafayette Park, just steps from the White House.

- In Philadelphia, at least 13 police officers were injured when protesters began setting fires and became violent.

- In New York City, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets for a third day, gathering at marches in Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens and outside Trump Tower in mid-town Manhattan. In the late afternoon, protesters in Brooklyn confronted the police in a series of street melees, hurling empty bottles and pieces of debris at officers who responded with billy clubs and pepper spray. A video showed a police car driving into a crowd.

- In Richmond, Virginia, two police officers at the state Capitol were hospitalised with leg injuries after being struck by a baseball bat and a beer bottle, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Earlier, the police fired tear gas at protesters, some of whom launched fireworks and smashed windows.

The turmoil was on display a short distance from the White House, where Mr Trump had called earlier in the day for his supporters to rally. Instead, hundreds of protesters mobilised on the streets of the nation's capital as tensions ratcheted higher.

Demonstrators hurled projectiles, including water bottles, fireworks and bricks, and wrested barricades from the police, who responded by lobbing canisters of tear gas into the crowd. Buildings up and down the streets near the White House were sprayed with graffiti, including the entrance of the Hay-Adams, a luxury hotel.

Nearby, scaffolding on a construction site behind the US Chamber of Commerce could be seen on fire. The windows at the entrance of the building were smashed. Around 11pm, two cars were set ablaze on an adjacent block, and a local bank was vandalised, its windows broken and the numbers "666" sprayed across the front.

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Mr Trump had made a series of statements throughout the day that did little to tamp down the outrage nationwide. Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House, he criticised the authorities in Minnesota for allowing protests to turn violent and offered the help of the military to contain further demonstrations.

In a series of tweets, he called demonstrators who gathered at the White House on Friday night "professionally managed so-called 'protesters'" and suggested that his supporters would meet them. "Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???"

Later on Saturday, speaking from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after observing the launch of a manned SpaceX rocket, Mr Trump blamed the unrest in cities across the country on "Antifa and other radical left-wing groups", drawing a distinction between "peaceful protesters" and other, more violent demonstrators.

"What we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or with peace," Mr Trump said. "The memory of George Floyd is being dishonoured by rioters, looters and anarchists."

Former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, released a statement early on Sunday appealing for calm.

"We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us," he wrote. "We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us."

Governor Walz activated thousands of additional National Guard troops to send to Minneapolis but declined the US Army's offer to deploy military police units.

Mr Walz, a Democrat, acknowledged that officials had underestimated the demonstrations in Minneapolis.

Mayor Jacob Frey, looking weary after four days of outrage in his city, pleaded with residents to go home and stop burning down the local businesses that he said were even more vital in the middle of a pandemic. "You're not getting back at the police officer that tragically killed George Floyd by looting a town," Mr Frey said. "You're not getting back at anybody."

He also blamed outsiders for the violence. "We are now confronting white supremacists, members of organised crime, out of state instigators and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilise our city and our region," he wrote on Twitter.

On Saturday, Mr Trump insisted that the protesters were far-left extremists. And Attorney-General Barr echoed the claim. "In many places it appears the violence is planned, organised and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups, far-left extremist groups, using Antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from outside the state to promote the violence," he said.

Residents say that Minneapolis has a core group of white anarchists. A man known as the Umbrella Man, dressed in all black and carrying a black umbrella and who appears to be white, was filmed breaking windows at an AutoZone store.

The protest in Los Angeles' affluent West Side began peacefully on Saturday and stayed that way for nearly three hours. Activists handed out water and food, and a crowd marched on Beverly Boulevard, chanting slogans against police brutality and waving placards. And then it took a violent turn.

Suddenly a police car was smashed and set on fire, black smoke billowing into the blue sky. A young man threw a skateboard at a police officer, and frightened men and women rushed away in every direction. Police helicopters hovered overhead, and convoys of police SUVs raced to the scene.

As tensions rose on the fourth day of protests, the mayor declared an 8pm curfew. "Go home," Mr Garcetti said. "Let us put the fires out. Let us learn the lessons. Let us re-humanizs each other."

But later in the evening, looting was reported at a Nordstrom store at The Grove, an upscale mall near the area of the protest, and a small fire was burning outside.

In San Francisco, a march drew about 1,000 people but remained peaceful, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaaf called on demonstrators to stay home after violent demonstrations on Friday.

In Sacramento, police officers surrounded the state Capitol as protesters pelted them and their horses with oranges and water bottles. Before the mayhem started in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon, several hundred people reflecting the diversity of the city - white, black, Latino, Asian American - had protested peacefully.

The death of Mr Floyd and the unrest it has provoked has tugged at painful memories in Los Angeles of the Rodney King beating in 1991 and the riots that occurred the next year after the acquittal of the four police officers involved in the case.

A freelance photographer who was shot in the eye while covering the protests in Minneapolis on Saturday was one of several journalists who have been attacked, arrested or otherwise harassed while covering the protests that have erupted nationwide. With trust in the news media lagging, journalists have found themselves the target of ire on both sides of a deeply politicised crisis.

A television reporter in Louisville, Kentucky was hit by a pepper ball on live television by an officer who appeared to be aiming at her. Outside the White House, protesters attacked Mr Leland Vittert, a Fox News correspondent and his crew, taking the journalist's microphone and striking him with it.

In Atlanta, masses of protesters on Friday night converged on CNN headquarters, where they broke through the front door, lobbed fireworks and vandalised the building. Earlier in the day, Mr Omar Jimenez, a reporter for the network, was detained as he reported on live television.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press logged about 10 different incidents that ranged from assaults to menacing in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Minneapolis. "With the unravelling of civil peace around the country, reporters are perceived as a target by both the police and the protesters," said Mr Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee, "and that is an extremely frightening place to be."

The intensifying protests came after the authorities announced that the officer who pinned Mr Floyd to the ground had been arrested and charged with murder on Friday, a development that activists and Floyd's family had called for but also said did not go far enough.

Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, charges that come with a combined maximum sentence of 35 years.

An investigation into the three other officers who were present at the scene remains ongoing.

Mr Floyd's relatives have said that they had wanted the more serious charge of first-degree murder. Third-degree murder does not require an intent to kill, according to the Minnesota statute, only that the perpetrator caused someone's death in a dangerous act "without regard for human life".

A lawyer for Chauvin's wife, Kellie, said she was devastated by Mr Floyd's death and expressed sympathy for his family and those grieving his loss. The case has also led her to seek a divorce, the lawyer, Ms Amanda Mason-Sekula, said in an interview on Friday night.

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