NEWS
31/05/2020 12:07 PM IST

Police Crackdowns Escalate As More Protesters Across US Demand Justice For George Floyd

Swaths of protesters were met with an increasingly heavy-handed police response in cities across the country.

Protests prompted by the police killing of George Floyd popped up in even more cities across the U.S. on Saturday as thousands of people continued to demand justice for Black victims of police brutality, and in many cities they were met with increasingly heavy-handed police crackdowns.

Large swaths of people gathered on the streets of Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Newark, New Jersey; Salt Lake City; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles and more on the warm weekend day.

As night fell, tensions increased in numerous cities. The National Guard was set to move into L.A. by midnight, the Los Angeles Times reported. “This is no longer a protest,” Mayor Gil Garcetti said Saturday night. “This is destruction.”

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) activated the National Guard Saturday night to “secure government buildings” in Reno, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) declared a state of emergency in and around Fargo and activated the National Guard. Earlier on Saturday the National Guard was deployed in Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky, and the nation’s capital.

In Brooklyn, New York, a police SUV drove through a crowd standing around a blockade, knocking several people backward, as seen in a video filmed from a building.

Another video, apparently filmed from a different angle, shows protesters throwing plastic bottles and traffic cones at a police vehicle before a second vehicle arrives and drives through the group of people.

In an attempt to quell protests overnight, several major cities implemented curfews to warn demonstrators to clear the streets — and give law enforcement power to crack down. In L.A. and Chicago, anyone out after 9 p.m. could be arrested for violating curfew, officials said. Denver police were using tear gas Saturday night to scatter protesters soon after curfew went into effect.

Many protesters faced a time crunch, because a number of curfews were announced shortly before they went into effect — giving people insufficient time to comply with the orders. In Seattle, the curfew went into effect 14 minutes after it was announced. Chicago’s curfew was announced with just 20 minutes’ notice.

Earlier, protesters at many of the demonstrations chanted and held signs, repeating the words that Floyd, 46, uttered as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes on Monday: “I can’t breathe.”

Morgan Davis, a 29-year-old Los Angeles resident, told HuffPost she came out to protest on Saturday because she is tired of Black people, including herself, being “terrorized.”

“I came out today because for too long, people who look like me have been terrorized for no reason except [for] our skin color, and enough is enough,” she said. “I shouldn’t be afraid to die just because I exist.”

Hundreds of people turned out in Salt Lake City. In Washington, D.C., protesters gathered near the White House as police attempted to hold them back. Hundreds of people in Fayetteville came out for two separate protests.

In Salt Lake City, a police car was overturned and spray-painted, and in Cleveland, a local reporter took a video of two police cars on fire.

In Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon, protesters moved aside to let an ambulance pass and cheered as the driver sounded the siren. Some protesters paused their march to dance in the streets.

“It feels like there are more things that connect us than separate us. A lot of times people try and divide us by what we look instead of seeing the human in us,” Davis told HuffPost in a text message during the protests in Los Angeles.

She added later: “It’s time for people to collectively do the right thing by each other and end racism for good.”

As night fell in Brooklyn, protesters set fire to a dumpster and at least two police vehicles.

Police tried to keep groups of protesters separated from each other and were seen arresting people, according to HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias, who was reporting from the scene and was later arrested while peacefully reporting.

Protesters began to disperse once a smoke bomb went off after nightfall at an “I Will Breathe” demonstration in Nashville, where protesters had set fires and smashed windows in City Hall and a courthouse.

Protests across the country have given rioters an opportunity to burn buildings and assault police, leading to mass property damage and violence in numerous cities. For law enforcement, determining the proper response to unrest is an extremely difficult task. A federal protective service officer was killed in Oakland on Friday, and countless officers have been injured. 

But there have also been countless instances of overreach and abuse by law enforcement officials, especially with unnecessary use of less-lethal projectiles, such as rubber bullets. Numerous videos have circulated of police firing rubber bullets at and arresting protesters who clearly posed no threat.

After the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the Justice Department commissioned an after-action report to evaluate the response of law enforcement officers. The report stated that less-lethal munitions could be warranted in many protest situations, but that officers should take care not to use those weapons against citizens simply exercising their constitutional rights and choose a course of action that is not just authorized, but “is right.”

Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck as Floyd struggled for breath, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Friday, but the other three officers have not been charged.

President Donald Trump on Saturday claimed that anti-fascist activists and “left-wing groups” were responsible for the violence at the protests. 

“The violence is being led by Antifa and other left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses and burning down buildings,” he said at a press conference.

“Radical left criminals, thugs and others, all throughout our country and throughout the world, will not be able to set communities ablaze,” Trump also said. “The leadership of the National Guard and the Department of Justice are now in close communication with state and city officials in Minnesota and we’re coordinating with local law enforcement.”

At a later speech on Saturday, Trump offered a more reserved statement.

“We support the right of peaceful protesters, and we hear their pleas,” he said. “But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace.”

This post has been updated throughout. Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this report.