MINNEAPOLIS (AFP) – Curfews were imposed in major US cities Saturday as clashes over police brutality escalated across America with demonstrators ignoring warnings from President Donald Trump that his government would stop the violent protests “cold.”
Minneapolis, the epicenter of the unrest, was gripped by a fifth consecutive night of violence with police in riot gear firing tear gas and stun grenades at protesters venting fury at the death of a black man during an arrest in the city on Monday.
Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta were among two dozen cities ordering people to stay indoors overnight as more states called in National Guard soldiers to help control civil unrest not seen in the United States for years.
From Seattle to New York, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding tougher murder charges and more arrests over the death of George Floyd who stopped breathing after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In Los Angeles, officers fired rubber bullets and swung batons during a testy standoff with demonstrators who set fire to a police car.
Police and protesters clashed in numerous cities including Chicago and New York, with officers responding to projectiles with pepper spray while shop windows were smashed in Philadelphia.
Trump blamed the extreme left for the violence, including widespread looting and arson in Minneapolis, saying rioters were dishonoring the memory of Floyd.
“We cannot and must not allow a small group of criminals and vandals to wreck our cities and lay waste to our communities,” the president said.
“My administration will stop mob violence. And we’ll stop it cold,” he added, accusing the loose-knit militant anti-fascist network Antifa of orchestrating the violence.
Rioters to be ‘decimated’
Peaceful protests occurred too, including in Toronto as the movement spread beyond America’s borders.
Demonstrators nationwide chanted slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe,” which Floyd, who has become a fresh symbol of police brutality, was heard saying repeatedly before he died.
“We’re not turning the cheek anymore. Black lives matter. They will always matter. And we’re here today to show that,” said makeup artist Melissa Mock, who joined several thousand in a daytime protest in Miami.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walzs said he was mobilizing the state’s entire 13,000-strong National Guard to deal with rioters who have looted shops and set fires in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
All major freeways leading into Minneapolis were shut down Saturday night with military helicopters taking to the skies over the area as the state braced for more rioting, arsons and looting with locals saying much of the violence was being perpetrated by outsiders.
Earlier, people congregated peacefully on Minneapolis streets, chanting Floyd’s name and carrying brooms to help clean up the scores of shops ransacked in the violence of the previous nights.
Some placed flowers in front of the shop where Floyd was arrested on Monday, before his death in the hands of police was recorded in a horrifying cellphone video since seen around the world.
In Houston — where Floyd was born and raised — an old friend of his, Sam Osborne, said that as an African American he feared for his life.
“I’m really messed up they killed him up. I’m wondering like, what could possibly happen to me?” he told AFP.
Houston’s mayor announced at a press conference that Floyd’s body would be brought back to the Texas city.
Texas, Colorado and Georgia became the latest states to activate the National Guard, bringing the number of states approving the deployment of the soldiers to at least eight. The National Guard was also deployed around the White House to help handle the protests there.
‘Black lives matter’
In Washington, protesters faced off with secret service agents outside the White House for a second straight night as Trump faces the most serious spate of civil unrest of his presidency, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Looting occurred in Miami, where a curfew was also announced, while in New York anger spread on social media over a video appearing to show an NYPD police car drive into protesters in Brooklyn.
In Los Angeles, there were reports of looting as the city’s mayor expanded a curfew order to cover the entire metropolitan area. Two large fires broke out with emergency services scrambling to put out the blazes.
Protests are expected to continue throughout the weekend even after Chauvin, the now-fired Minneapolis police officer accused of Floyd’s death was arrested, and charged with third-degree murder on Friday.
Floyd’s family and many protestors want a tougher charge brought and have also demanded that three officers who assisted him to be charged as well.