Richard Luscombe, Vivian Ho
18:49 UTC Sunday, 07 June 2020
Streets in countless cities and towns across America filled with demonstrators again on Sunday as largely peaceful protests over systemic racism and police brutality, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, headed towards a third week.
Rallies swelled as some cities lifted the evening curfews and withdrew national guard support, and protesters claimed a landmark victory as a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis city council pledged to dismantle the city’s troubled police force.
The scenes were markedly different from the previous weekend, which saw police beating back protesters with teargas and batons, and a non-violent gathering in a Washington DC park on Monday forcibly cleared in military-style assault ahead of a photo opportunity for Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, the body of Floyd, 46, whose killing on Memorial Day when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes was captured on a now infamous video, arrived in his hometown of Houston on Sunday for a public viewing on Monday, and a private funeral Tuesday.
This weekend’s protests, which saw moments of levity and jubilance, appeared to reflect a shifting mood across the country.
Thousands of marchers gathered close to the White House on Sunday afternoon, mirroring Saturday’s peaceful demonstration in Washington DC in which more than 10,000 people poured into the streets and coalesced at the feet of Abraham Lincoln at his giant marble memorial. The words Black Lives Matter had been painted in bright yellow letters along a street near the White House.
In the capital late on Sunday afternoon, Utah’s Republican senator Mitt Romney – a critic of Donald Trump – was seen among the roughly 1,000 demonstrators marching in a faith-based protest to the White House.
In New York, an estimated 1,600 protesters stopped outside Trump International Hotel in Manhattan chanting “Throw him out” on their way to Central Park. A day earlier in Harlem demonstrators shouted “Get off our necks” and “Racism is America’s original sin” as they marched uptown from the National Black Theatre.
Speaking at virtual commencement speech for 2020 graduates, the former president Barack Obama joined a star-studded lineup including Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Tom Brady, offering inspirational messages.
“As scary and uncertain these times may be, they are also a wake-up call. And they’re an incredible opportunity for your generation,” Obama said.
Elsewhere on Sunday, sizable protests in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia and Washington DC passed largely in peace. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the NBA team the Milwaukee Bucks led a march of about 7,500. In Compton, California, there were protests on horseback and a caravan of cars driving past Los Angeles police headquarters, while an estimated 20,000 people packed Hollywood Boulevard, filling the street from curb to curb.
Scenes in Seattle, Washington, turned briefly chaotic when a man drove into a crowd and shot a demonstrator. Seattle police department said a suspect was in custody and a gun was recovered at the scene.
Crowds were also back on the streets in Minneapolis. On top of a stage with a sign reading “Defund police”, Minneapolis city council president Lisa Bender announced the intention of nine members of the council – a veto-proof majority – to dismantle the police department and replace it with an alternative model of community-led safety. “In Minneapolis and in cities across the United States, it is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe,” she said to massive cheers.
Sunday also saw major demonstrations against racism and police brutality around the world in solidarity with a movement that has spread far beyond the US. Demonstrators turned out in Rome, Milan, London, Brussels and Prague. In Bristol, England, protesters toppled a statue of a 17th-century slave trader.
More cities announced they were dropping or relaxing their curfews on Sunday with Philadelphia and New York, which saw late-night violence earlier in the week, joining Atlanta, Chicago, and Buffalo.
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, announced he was canceling the city’s curfew with immediate effect, after two days of relatively calm protests. “Yesterday and last night we saw the very best of our city,” de Blasio said in a tweet.
On Sunday, cities including Philadelphia and New York, which saw late-night violence earlier in the week, dropped or relaxed their curfews.
Others announced restrictions on police tactics that have come under scrutiny. Portland, Oregon, became the latest to ban the use of teargas, joining cities including Denver and Seattle, while California state and municipalities including Minneapolis, where Floyd died, have outlawed chokeholds and neck restraints.
In Washington DC on Sunday, federal troops that Trump insisted he could use to quell riots and looting, were sent back to their barracks.
The president, in what has become almost a weekend ritual, spent his Sunday morning sending furious tweets as developments unfolded, claiming the withdrawal of the National Guard was a victory for his administration “now that everything is under complete control” and excoriating his political foes, some of them prominent Republicans who this week criticised his heavy-handed approach to the protests.
Among them was Colin Powell, a key ally of the most recent Republican president George W Bush, who told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that Trump had “drifted away from the US constitution” and that he would vote for the Democratic candidate Joe Biden in November’s election.
He became the first major Republican figure to publicly back Biden, after a report in the New York Times on Saturday that other leading figures would not support Trump.
Powell’s words elicited a predictable response from Trump, who tweeted that the retired four-star general, national security adviser, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and US Secretary of State was “a real stiff”.
Biden will travel to Houston and meet with Floyd’s family ahead of his funeral.
As well as the continuing demonstrations in many large cities, and across the globe in Europe, Australia and elsewhere, protests and rallies spread to numerous smaller towns in the US. One of them took place in Vidor, a tiny town in east Texas once a stronghold for the Ku Klux Klan, where dozens of protesters carrying Black Lives Matter placards rallied peacefully.
Defunding calls grow
Calls for defunding police departments nationwide have increased in volume this week, and Cory Booker, the Democratic senator and former presidential candidate, told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that “we are over-policed as a society”.
Investing in police, he said, “is not solving problems, but making them worse.”
The Trump administration was criticised for ordering police to violently remove peaceful protesters in Washington DC’s Lafayette Park, tactics defended by attorney general Bill Barr on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.
The network reported Trump demanded 10,000 active duty troops be used to quell protests in the capital, but received pushback from Barr, defence secretary Mark Esper and others.
“The decision was made to have at the ready and on hand in the vicinity some regular troops, but everyone agreed that the use of regular troops is a last resort and that as long as matters can be controlled with other resources they should be,” Barr insisted.
Barr also denied the police were systematically racist. “I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” said Barr. “I understand the … the distrust, however, of the African American community given the history in this country.”
Material from AP and Reuters was used in this report