Tense protests over the death of George Floyd and other police killings of black people grew Saturday from New York to Tulsa to Los Angeles, with police cars set ablaze and reports of injuries mounting on all sides as the country convulsed through another night of unrest after months of coronavirus lockdowns.
The protests, which began in Minneapolis following Floyd's death Monday after a police officer pressed a knee on his neck until he stopped breathing, have left parts of the city a grid of broken windows, burned-out buildings and ransacked stores. The unrest has since become a national phenomenon as protesters decry years of deaths at police hands.
Tens of thousands of people were in the streets across the country, many of them not wearing masks or observing social distancing, raising concerns among health experts about the potential for spreading the coronavirus pandemic at a time when much of the country is in the process of reopening society and the economy.
After a tumultuous Friday, racially diverse crowds held mostly peaceful demonstrations in dozens of cities, though many later descended into violence as had happened the previous night.
Few corners of America were untouched, from protesters setting fires inside Reno's city hall, to police launching tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators in Fargo, North Dakota, to shattered windows at police headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.
In Indianapolis, police were investigating “multiple shootings” downtown, including one that left a person dead, amid the protests. Police gave few details but said no officers were involved.
The National Guard was deployed outside the White House, where chanting crowds taunted law enforcement officers. Dressed in camouflage and holding shields, the troops stood in a tight line a few yards from the crowd, preventing them from pushing forward. President Donald Trump, who spent much of Saturday in Florida for the SpaceX rocket launch, landed on the lawn in the presidential helicopter at dusk and went inside without speaking to journalists.
In Philadelphia, at least 13 officers were injured when peaceful protests turned violent and at least four police vehicles were set on fire. Other fires were set throughout downtown.
Protesters defied a curfew in Salt Lake City and National Guard troops were deployed by Utah’s governor. Demonstrators flipped a police car and lit it on fire, and another vehicle was later set ablaze. Police said six people were arrested and a police officer was injured after being struck in the head with a baseball bat.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Saturday he asked California Gov. Gavin Newsom for 500 to 700 members of the Guard to assist the 10,000 Los Angeles Police Department officers. The Guard members were expected to arrive early Sunday.
Firefighters responded to dozens of fires, and scores of businesses were damaged. One of the hardest-hit areas was the area around the Grove, a popular high-end outdoor mall west of downtown where hundreds of protesters swarmed the area, showering police with rocks and other objects and vandalizing shops. One officer suffered a fractured skull, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said. When the curfew took effect at 8 p.m., police moved aggressively to get people off the streets and there was no repeat of the late-night rampage that occurred downtown Friday night and led to more than 500 arrests.
The scale of the destruction in Los Angeles was being compared to the 1992 riots, when there was more than $1 billion in property damage. There was no estimate of how many businesses suffered damage since protests began Wednesday, but it was clearly extensive.
There were protests in cities throughout California, from San Diego to San Francisco. San Francisco's iconic Union Square saw people stealing leather bags from the Coach store and shoes from the Salvatore Ferragamo location, The Mercury News reported. Streets were littered with bras from Victoria's Secret and cushioned jewelry boxes from Swarovski. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed said a citywide curfew would go into effect from 8 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday. She also asked the governor to put the National Guard on standby.
In nearby Oakland, which was wracked by violence Friday night that left 13 officers injured, authorities declared an unlawful demonstration near City Hall late Saturday. Protesters lit a dumpster on fire in the middle of an intersection and police launched tear gas into a crowd.
In Emeryville, just east of San Francisco, Mayor Christian Patz said Target, Best Buy and other box stores were burglarized, with thieves stealing electronics and other items. Stores in the city closed early Saturday as part of a shelter-in-place order following violent protests in nearby Oakland the night before.
In Santa Ana, south of Los Angeles, hundreds of demonstrators converged on the police station, throwing objects and setting off firecrackers as police used tear gas to push them back.
And in New York City, dangerous confrontations flared repeatedly as officers made arrests and cleared streets. A video showed two NYPD cruisers lurching into a crowd of demonstrators who were pushing a barricade against one of them and pelting it with objects. Several people were knocked to the ground, and it was unclear if anyone was hurt.
“The mistakes that are happening are not mistakes. They’re repeated violent terrorist offenses and people need to stop killing black people," Brooklyn protester Meryl Makielski said.
Not all protests devolved into violence. In Juneau, Alaska, law enforcement officers joined elected officials and residents at a peaceful protest in front of a giant whale sculpture on the city’s waterfront.
“We don’t tolerate excessive use of force,” Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer told the gathering.
Back in Minneapolis, the city where the protests began, police, state troopers and National Guard members moved in soon after an 8 p.m. curfew took effect to break up protests, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to clear streets outside a police precinct and elsewhere.
The show of force came after three days when police largely avoided engaging protesters, and after the state poured in more than 4,000 National Guard troops to Minneapolis and said the number would soon rise to nearly 11,000.
“The situation in Minneapolis is no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd,” said Gov. Tim Walz, who also said local forces had been overmatched the previous day. “It is about attacking civil society, instilling fear and disrupting our great cities.”
Minneapolis' streets steadily grew calmer as the night went on, and Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said the tough response would remain as long as it takes to “quell this situation.”
Some residents were glad to see the upheaval dissipating.
“l live here. I haven’t been able to sleep," said Iman Muhammad, whose neighborhood saw multiple fires set Friday night. Muhammad said she sympathized with peaceful protests over Floyd’s death but disagreed with the violence: “Wrong doesn’t answer wrong."
Trump appeared to cheer on the tougher tactics Saturday night, commending the Guard deployment in Minneapolis, declaring “No games!” and saying police in New York City “must be allowed to do their job!”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden condemned the violence as he continued to express common cause with those demonstrating after Floyd’s death.
“The act of protesting should never be allowed to overshadow the reason we protest,” Biden said in a statement Saturday night.
Overnight curfews were imposed in more than a dozen major cities nationwide, including Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis and Seattle. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in 16 cities since Thursday, including over 500 Friday in Los Angeles.
The unrest comes at a time when most Americans have spent months inside over concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic that has thrown millions out of work and killed more than 100,000 people in the U.S. As emergency orders are lifted and beaches and businesses reopen, add protests to the list of concerns about a possible second wave of coronavirus outbreaks. Health experts fear that silent carriers of the virus who have no symptoms could unwittingly infect others at gatherings with people packed cheek to jowl and cheering and jeering, many without masks.
“Whether they’re fired up or not that doesn’t prevent them from getting the virus,” said Bradley Pollock, chairman of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis.
The mayor of Atlanta, one of dozens of U.S. cities hit by massive protests in recent days, has a message for demonstrators: “If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, in her warning Saturday evening, said “there is still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers.”
“It’s not OK that in the middle of a pandemic we have to be out here risking our lives,” Spence Ingram, a black woman, said after marching with other protesters to the state Capitol in Atlanta on Friday. “But I have to protest for my life and fight for my life all the time.”
After another night of unrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said that many protesters wearing masks were simply trying to hide their identities and “cause confusion and take advantage of this situation.”
The state’s health commissioner has warned that the protests are almost certain to fuel new cases of the virus. Minnesota reported 35 deaths on Thursday, a single-day high in the outbreak, and 29 more on Friday.
This week's unrest recalled the riots in Los Angeles nearly 30 years ago after the acquittal of the white police officers who beat Rodney King, a black motorist who had led them on a high-speed chase. The protests of Floyd's killing have gripped many more cities, but the losses in Minneapolis have yet to approach the staggering totals Los Angeles saw during five days of rioting in 1992, when more than 60 people died, 2,000-plus were injured and thousands arrested.
Many protesters spoke of frustration that Floyd’s death was one more in a litany. It came in the wake of the killing in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot dead after being pursued by two white men while running in their neighborhood.
The officer who held his knee to Floyd’s neck as he begged for air was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But many protesters are demanding the arrests of the three other officers involved.
Trump stoked the anger on Twitter, saying that if protesters had breached the White House fence, they would “have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”
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.
Leaders in many affected cities have voiced outrage over Floyd's killing and expressed sympathy for protesters' concerns. But as the unrest intensified, they spoke of a desperate need to protect their cities and said they would call in reinforcements, despite concerns that could lead to more heavy-handed tactics.
Governors in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Texas also activated the National Guard after protests there turned violent.
Police in St. Louis were investigating the death of a protester who climbed between two trailers of a Fed Ex truck and was killed when it drove away. And a person was killed in the area of protests in downtown Detroit just before midnight after someone fired shots into an SUV, officers said. Police had initially said someone fired into the crowd from an SUV.
In the German capital of Berlin, hundreds of protesters picketed outside the U.S. Embassy on Saturday evening under the motto: “Justice for George Floyd.”
Thousands gathered in central London on Sunday to offer support for American demonstrators. Chanting “No justice! No peace!'' and waving placards at Trafalgar Square, the protesters ignored U.K. government rules banning crowds because of the pandemic.
In Italy, the Corriere della Sera newspaper's senior U.S. correspondent Massimo Gaggi wrote that the reaction to Floyd’s killing was “different” than previous cases of black Americans killed by police and the ensuring violence.
“There are exasperated black movements that no longer preach nonviolent resistance,’’ Gaggi wrote, noting the Minnesota governor’s warning that “anarchist and white supremacy groups are trying to fuel the chaos.''
In countries with authoritarian governments, state-controlled media have been highlighting the chaos and violence of the U.S. demonstrations, in part to undermine American officials’ criticism of their own nations.
In China, the protests are being viewed through the prism of U.S. government criticism of China's crackdown on anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-owned Global Times newspaper, tweeted that U.S. officials can now see protests out their own windows: “I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Pompeo: Should Beijing support protests in the U.S., like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?”
Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson, pointed out America's racial unrest by tweeting “I can't breathe,” which Floyd said before his death.
In Iran, which has violently put down nationwide demonstrations by killing hundreds, arresting thousands and disrupting internet access to the outside world, state television has repeatedly aired images of the U.S. unrest. One TV anchor discussed “a horrible scene from New York, where police attacked protesters.” Another state TV message accused U.S. police agencies in Washington of “setting fire to cars and attacking protesters,” without offering any evidence.
Russia also expressed a lack of shock.
“This incident is far from the first in a series of lawless conduct and unjustified violence from U.S. law enforcement,’’ the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “American police commit such high-profile crimes all too often.’’
There also have been expressions of solidarity with the demonstrators.
Over the weekend, Lebanese anti-government protesters flooded social media with tweets sympathetic to U.S. protesters, using the hashtag #Americarevolts. That's a play on the slogan for Lebanon’s protest movement — Lebanon revolts — which erupted on Oct. 17 last year. Within 24 hours, the hashtag #Americanrevolts became the No. 1 trending tag in Lebanon.
In another expression of solidarity with American protesters, about 150 people marched through central Jerusalem on Saturday to protest the shooting death by Israeli police of an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man earlier in the day. Israeli police mistakenly suspected that the man, Iyad Halak, was carrying a weapon. When he failed to obey orders to stop, officers opened fire.
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