Thousands of demonstrators took to a knee in the grass outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, chanting “silence is violence” and “no justice, no peace,” just before a government-imposed curfew as rallies against police brutality swelled in major cities.
The throng at the capitol then stood up and chanted “take a knee” and “who do you protect?” as officers faced them.
Evening curfews were ordered in dozens of cities following a week of protests over the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Largely peaceful during the day, the crowds have erupted into vandalism, arson and looting after dark.
President Donald Trump has called for the National Guard or U.S. military to crack down on what has called “hoodlums,” “thieves” and “thugs” responsible for the violence, blaming state governors or local officials for failing to intervene.
But Trump’s vow to end the protests and curfews have so far had little effect in dampening the violence that has broken out after dark.
On Tuesday protesters in several cities massed peacefully in large numbers, including in Los Angeles, Washington and Philadelphia. In New York City, thousands held an orderly march up 86th Street, chanting and holding signs saying “no justice, no peace” and “say his name, George Floyd,” followed by a silent vigil.
In Floyd’s hometown of Houston, thousands gathered for a march organized by his friends and family.
On Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, hundreds of people filled the street from curb to curb. Others gathered outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, in some cases hugging and shaking hands with a line of officers outside.
Los Angeles was the scene of violent riots in the spring of 1992, following the acquittal of four policemen charged in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, that saw more than 60 people killed and estimates of US$ 1 billion in damage.
Floyd died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25, reigniting the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans. A painful reexamination of race relations has swept the country five months before a divided America votes in a presidential election.
The officer who knelt on Floyd, 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved were fired but not yet charged.
The head of the U.S. National Guard said on Tuesday 18,000 Guard members were assisting local law enforcement in 29 states.
Lawmakers and law enforcement officials seemed stunned by mayhem overnight when police in some cities faced gunfire, rocks and projectiles from hostile crowds.
Demonstrators smashed windows and looted luxury stores on tony Fifth Avenue in New York, and set fire to a Los Angeles strip mall. Four police officers were shot in St. Louis and one in Las Vegas who was critically wounded, authorities said.
Trump has threatened to use the military to battle violence that has erupted nightly, often after a day of peaceful protests. He has derided local authorities, including state governors, for their response to the disturbances.
The protests come on the heels of lockdowns to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus which hit African Americans disproportionately with high numbers of cases and job losses.
Some of those who have gathered at the site of Floyd’s killing have invoked the non-violent message of the late U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated in 1968, as the only way forward.
In Atlanta, six officers will face charges for an incident in which two college students were removed from their car and tased, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told a briefing. Two of the six officers were terminated on Sunday.
A police officer in Sarasota, Florida, was placed on leave on Tuesday after video surfaced showing the officer kneeling on a man’s back and neck during an arrest in May.
Officers were injured in clashes elsewhere, including one who was in critical condition after being hit by a car in the Bronx, police said.
Nearly an hour after curfew in Washington, D.C. the protesters at the Capitol joined those in Lafayette Park near the White House, where on Monday police used teargas and rubber bullets to clear the way for Trump to visit St. John’s church nearby for a photo.