WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Thousands of protesters were marching in Washington on Saturday (June 6) as rallies across the United States to protest the killing of a black man in Minneapolis police custody entered a 12th day and officials moved to rein in law enforcement tactics.
George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The killing has triggered protests against racism and police brutality in cities and smaller communities nationwide, as well as demonstrations by supporters around the world.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Delonno Carroll, a 27-year-old construction worker, said he had come out to demonstrate because he “simply cannot” sit and watch from home.
“Our voices need to be heard,” Carroll said. “No longer can we have a man call out for his mom on the streets and have to go through what George Floyd did.”
Six buses unloaded several hundred uniformed military personnel, most wearing body armor and carrying shields, at the White House grounds early on Saturday, a Reuters photographer said. Military Humvees were parked on tree-lined city streets.
Police – who drew criticism for firing smoke grenades and chemical irritant “pepper balls” before charging into peaceful protesters near the White House on Tuesday – were out in smaller numbers around the marchers on Saturday afternoon and generally in a more relaxed posture, wearing patrol uniforms rather than body armor and helmets.
Various groups of protesters gathered around the city before converging near the White House.
Some passing motorists honked their horns in support, and some city residents came out on the street to hand out water and snacks to offer protesters relief from the sweltering heat.
Hundreds of demonstrators who marched past the George Washington University Hospital chanted “Hands up, Don’t shoot!” “We March for hope, not for hate,” and “I can’t breathe!” That last chant echoed protests from New York in 2014, when Eric Garner died in police custody after an officer used a banned chokehold on him.
Garner and Floyd are part of a long line of black men and women killed by white officers.
Many of those protesting in Washington were white.“Especially as a white person, I benefit from the status quo,” said protester Michael Drummond, a 40-year-old government employee.
“So not showing up and actively working to deconstruct institutional racism makes me complicit.”
Footage of Floyd’s death recorded by an onlooker showed the man repeatedly pleading for his life and telling the officers he could not breathe, before he went silent.
A second memorial service was held for Floyd on Saturday in North Carolina, where he was born. Hundreds lined up at a church in Raeford to pay their respects during a public viewing, and a private service for the family was scheduled for later in the day.
Thousands took to the streets across Europe and Australia, as did hundreds in Tokyo and Seoul, in support of US protests against police brutality.
There were also marches on Saturday in cities including Miami, Philadelphia and New York. Friday night’s protests were largely peaceful but tension remains high even as authorities in several places take steps to reform police procedures.
A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other “less-than-lethal” devices such as flash grenades, with his ruling citing examples of protesters and journalists being injured by police.
“These are peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and medics who have been targeted with extreme tactics meant to suppress riots, not to suppress demonstrations,” US District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in the ruling.
In Minneapolis, Democratic city leaders voted to end the use of knee restraints and choke holds, while California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, said he would end state police training of restraints that restrict the carotid artery in the neck.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would lead the way in passing reforms including banning choke holds and making police disciplinary records publicly available.
“Mr Floyd’s murder was the breaking point,” said Cuomo, a Democrat. “People are saying enough is enough.”
BUFFALO OFFICERS ARRAIGNED
Black Lives Matter activists have called for cities to defund police departments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who in April proposed increasing law enforcement funding, this week reversed course and said he would seek some US$150 million (S$200 million) in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.
In a case from New York state that drew condemnation after two police officers were filmed shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground in Buffalo, the two officers were arraigned on second-degree felony assault charges on Saturday.
The officers, who were applauded by scores of law enforcement colleagues as they left after their virtual arraignment, pleaded not guilty, according to a spokeswoman for the local district attorney’s office.
The victim was treated for a head injury, loss of consciousness and bleeding from the right ear, authorities said, and remains hospitalised in critical condition.
The demonstrations have erupted as the American public and businesses struggle to recover from sweeping lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Disease experts have said the protests could spark new outbreaks.