Protesters defy curfews in major US cities to march against police brutality

VIDEO: REUTERS
Demonstrators holding signs during a protest in front of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC on June 2, 2020.
Demonstrators holding signs during a protest in front of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC on June 2, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON/MINNEAPOLIS (REUTERS) - Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of major US cities on Tuesday (June 2) for an eighth consecutive night of protests over the death of a black man in police custody, defying pleas by mayors as well as strict curfews and other measures meant to curtail them. 

Major marches took place in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York City, as well as in Washington, DC near the park where demonstrators were cleared on Monday to make a path for President Donald Trump so he could walk from the White House to a historic church for a photo.  

Although rallies on behalf of Mr George Floyd and other victims of police brutality have been largely peaceful during the day, after dark each night, crowds have turned to rioting, vandalism, arson and looting. On Monday night, five police officers were hit by gunfire in two cities.

Thousands of demonstrators took to a knee in the grass outside the US Capitol on Tuesday, chanting "silence is violence" and "no justice, no peace", just before a government-imposed curfew as rallies against police brutality swelled in major cities.

The throng at the capitol then stood up and chanted "take a knee" and "who do you protect?" as officers faced them.

Evening curfews were ordered in dozens of cities following a week of protests over the death of Mr Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis police custody. Largely peaceful during the day, the crowds have erupted into vandalism, arson and looting after dark.

Mr Trump has called for the National Guard or United States military to crack down on what he has called "hoodlums", "thieves" and "thugs" responsible for the violence, blaming state governors or local officials for failing to intervene.

But Mr Trump's vow to end the protests and curfews has so far had little effect in dampening the violence that has broken out after dark.

On Tuesday, protesters in several cities massed peacefully in large numbers, including in Los Angeles, Washington and Philadelphia. In New York City, thousands held an orderly march up 86th Street, chanting and holding signs saying "no justice, no peace" and "say his name, George Floyd", followed by a silent vigil.

In Mr Floyd's home town of Houston, thousands gathered for a march organised by his friends and family.

On Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, hundreds of people filled the street from curb to curb. Others gathered outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, in some cases hugging and shaking hands with a line of officers outside.

Los Angeles was the scene of violent riots in the spring of 1992, following the acquittal of four policemen charged in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, which saw more than 60 people killed and estimates of US$1 billion in damage.

MOST AMERICANS SYMPATHISE

A majority of Americans sympathise with the protests, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.  

The survey, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, found that 64 per cent of American adults were “sympathetic to people who are out protesting right now”, while 27 per cent said they were not and 9 per cent were unsure.

More than 55 per cent of Americans said they disapproved of Mr Trump’s handling of the protests, including 40 per cent who “strongly” disapproved, while just one-third said they approved - lower than his overall job approval of 39 per cent, the poll showed.

Mr Floyd died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25, reigniting the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans. A painful re-examination of race relations has swept the country five months before a divided America votes in a presidential election.

The officer who knelt on Mr Floyd, 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved were fired but not yet charged.

 
 

In Minneapolis, Ms Roxie Washington, mother of Mr Floyd's six-year-old daughter Gianna, told a news conference that he was a good man.

"I want everybody to know that this is what those officers took from me," she said, sobbing. "Gianna does not have a father. He will never see her grow up, graduate."

POLICE IN OTHER CITIES FACE CHARGES

The head of the US National Guard said on Tuesday that 18,000 Guard members were assisting local law enforcement in 29 states.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials seemed stunned by mayhem overnight when police in some cities faced gunfire, rocks and projectiles from hostile crowds.

Demonstrators smashed windows and looted luxury stores on Fifth Avenue in New York, and set fire to a Los Angeles strip mall. Four police officers were shot in St Louis and one in Las Vegas, who was critically wounded, the authorities said.

Mr Trump has threatened to use the military to battle violence that has erupted nightly, often after a day of peaceful protests. He has derided local authorities, including state governors, for their response to the disturbances.

The protests come on the heels of lockdowns to prevent spread of the coronavirus, which hit African Americans disproportionately with high numbers of cases and job losses.

Some of those who have gathered at the site of Mr Floyd's killing have invoked the non-violent message of the late US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, assassinated in 1968, as the only way forward.

"He would be truly appalled by the violence because he gave his life for this stuff," said Mr Al Clark, 62, a black man who drove to the Minneapolis memorial with one of King's speeches blaring from his truck.

"But I can understand the frustration and anger."

 
 

In Atlanta, six officers will face charges for an incident in which two college students were removed from their car and tasered, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told a briefing. Two of the six officers were terminated on Sunday.

A police officer in Sarasota, Florida, was placed on leave on Tuesday after video surfaced showing the officer kneeling on a man's back and neck during an arrest in May.

Officers were injured in clashes elsewhere, including one who was in critical condition after being hit by a car in the Bronx, police said.

Nearly an hour after curfew in Washington, DC, the protesters at the Capitol joined those in Lafayette Park near the White House, where on Monday police used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the way for Mr Trump to visit St John's church nearby for a photo.