Tens of thousands march in US cities to protest against racial injustice

Demonstrations sparked by death of George Floyd extend into 12th day

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have protested across US cities demanding an end to racism and brutality by law enforcement. Video : Reuters

 

Tens of thousands of demonstrators amassed in Washington and other US cities on Saturday demanding an end to racism and brutality by law enforcement, as protests sparked by George Floyd’s death stretched into a 12th day.

A Lincoln Memorial rally and march to the White House 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 in Minneapolis knelt on his neck.

Demonstrators rallied on Saturday in cities across the United States –- among them New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Miami – as well as in small, rural communities across the country.

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 25th death has sparked a storm of protests and civil strife in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, thrusting the highly charged debate over racial justice back to the forefront of the political agenda five months before the November 3rd US presidential election.

With the notable exception of Seattle, where police used ‘flash-bang’ grenades in a confrontation with demonstrators in the city’s Capitol Hill district, Saturday’s protests on the whole took on a relaxed tone compared with those of recent days.

The week began with sporadic episodes of arson, looting and vandalism in several cities that authorities and activists have blamed largely on outside instigators and criminal elements.

Police have at times resorted to heavy-handed tactics as they sought to enforce curfews in some cities, including New York and Washington, where baton-swinging officers in riot gear dispersed otherwise orderly crowds.

Those clashes 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.

The intensity of protests over the past week began to ebb on Wednesday after prosecutors in Minneapolis had arrested all four police officers implicated in Mr Floyd’s death. Derek Chauvin, the white officer seen pinning Mr Floyd’s neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes as Mr Floyd repeatedly said: “I can’t breathe”, was charged with second-degree murder.

Largest rally yet

But Saturday marked the largest demonstration over the killing to date.

Crowds numbering in the tens of thousands converged on the nation’s capital, despite health risks posed by the coronavirus, though official estimates of the turnout were unavailable.

The rallies in Washington, as elsewhere, were notable for drawing racially mixed crowds.

Hundreds of miles 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 his body prior to a private memorial service for family members.

Mr Floyd’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Houston, where he lived before relocating to the Minneapolis area.

In New York, a large crowd of protesters crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan on Saturday afternoon, marching up a largely deserted Broadway. Thousands of others gathered in Harlem near the northwest corner of Central Park to march downtown, about 100 blocks, to the city’s Washington Square Park.

In Philadelphia, demonstrators gathered on the steps of Philadelphia Art Museum steps chanting, “No justice, No peace.” Others marched along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, through John F. Kennedy Plaza, and around Philadelphia City Hall.

On the West Coast, protesters briefly blocked traffic on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge as motorists honked in solidarity.

Easing tensions

An almost festive atmosphere prevailed among protesters assembled at an outdoor strip newly rechristened Black Lives Matter Plaza – the phrase “Black Lives Matter” painted in large yellow letters on the pavement – a block from the White House.

It was near the spot where US police and military personnel cleared Lafayette Square of peaceful demonstrators with chemical spray and smoke grenades on Monday night, paving the way for President Donald Trump to walk from the White House through the park to a church to hold a bible aloft for cameras.

On Saturday, Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser, a vocal critic of Mr Trump’s response to the protests this week, was spotted in the crowd while songs such as “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond and “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar blared from loudspeakers.

The demonstrators included families and people of all ages carrying signs with slogans such as “Fed up,” “All lives do not matter until black lives do,” and “My black son matters.”

Police officers were present but in smaller numbers than earlier in the week. They generally assumed a less aggressive posture, wearing patrol uniforms rather than body armour and helmets.

In another sign of easing tension, Maj Gen William Walker, commander of the DC National Guard, told CNN that the nearly 4,000 additional Guard troops deployed to the city from 11 states at the Pentagon’s request were likely to be withdrawn after the weekend. – Reuters

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