Tens of thousands of people marched in cities and small towns across America in the largest demonstrations so far after George Floyd’s death.
Protesters poured onto the streets of the nation’s capital to demand an end to police brutality and racial injustice. They braved the heat, wore masks and chanted in unison at the Lincoln Memorial and near the White House.
“I don’t care if I lose my life if that means my nieces and my nephews won’t have to deal with someone invalidating them because of the color of their skin,” said Philomena Wankenge, a board member and founder of Freedom Fighters, one of the organizing groups.
Large crowds attended mostly peaceful protest rallies in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago. Meanwhile in Raeford, North Carolina, hundreds lined up for a public viewing of Floyd’s casket.
The viewing and a memorial service took place near Floyd’s birthplace in Fayetteville. His family sang and prayed to celebrate his life while Rev. Christopher D. Stackhouse recounted the protests as he delivered the eulogy for him.
“A movement is happening in America and I’m glad that all of us get to say that it was George Floyd who sparked the fuse,” Stackhouse said.
“It was George Floyd who sparked the fuse that is going to change this nation,” he added.
A ‘gentle giant’
In an obituary for the service, Floyd’s family described him as someone who helped others reach their “fullest potential” and could find “the good in every situation.”
“George earned the name ‘gentle giant’ for his quiet personality and beautiful spirit towards everyone,” the obituary says.
The memorial was held more than 1,300 miles from where Floyd’s life ended last week at the hands of Minneapolis police and was the second stop in a series of events to celebrate his life.
A local law enforcement officer, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, spoke at the memorial. He denounced police brutality and urged law enforcement to see that “we are part of the problem.”
“I don’t care what George did, we as law enforcement officers, we don’t have the authority to bully, push people around and kill them because we have a badge and a gun,” Peterkin said.
The anger and frustration ‘just bubbles up’
Floyd’s death has spurred 12 nights of sometimes violent unrest despite city curfews and complaints of police violence against protesters.
In New York, crowds are still marching through Manhattan. People were chanting slogans like “defund the police” in Los Angeles while others were having dance-offs.
“From a very young age, my parents told me that is what to expect when it comes to racism and how I’m viewed,” Roger Campbell II, a Maryland teacher who was among the protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. “So I always just accepted it and never really tried to look at it too much … All those emotions, the anger, the frustration, the hurt — it just bubbles up.”
Outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, hundreds of protesters gathered for a march to the National Mall, with a stop outside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, then on to the Lincoln Memorial. Freedom Fighters DC, one of the organizing groups, held a voter registration drive.
They carried signs remembering Floyd and other victims of police brutality, with messages such as “Remember their names” and “Silence is violence.”
De-escalation and tear gas bans
The gatherings and remembrances followed a night of de-escalation of police response to the protests.
Authorities in Portland, Oregon, and several other cities have suspended the use of tear gas against protesters.
“I stand in solidarity with our non-violent demonstrators, who are sending a strong message that we are long overdue for meaningful reform and restorative justice,” Portland Mayor Tom Wheeler tweeted on Saturday.
Atlanta will not enforce a curfew on Saturday, the first time in a week, according to the office of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Curfews for both Denver and Minneapolis expired Friday morning, marking the first time in days that the cities were not under orders to manage protests.
“Every night it got quieter and quieter to the point where we don’t see any need for the state to have a curfew. And so there is not going to be any curfew this weekend,” Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington said Friday.
In Washington, DC, where protesters have clashed with authorities, a “handful” of National Guard members that were armed earlier were ordered to no longer carry firearms, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Friday. That same day, Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote a letter to President Donald Trump requesting that federal law enforcement be withdrawn from the district, citing peaceful protests.
Policing changes begin
Local leadership has begun to implement other changes in response to Floyd’s death and the national protests.
A measure agreed upon Friday by the city of Minneapolis bans police officers from using chokeholds and neck restraints.
The measure also mandates timely discipline decisions of officers, allows for civilian audits of body camera footage, and requires the Minneapolis police chief’s authorization for the use of crowd control weapons, including rubber bullets and tear gas, according to the order obtained by CNN.
A judge still needs to approve the measure before it is enacted.
“We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response,” City Council member Jeremiah Ellison tweeted. “It’s really past due.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz applauded the changes.
“We are moving quickly to create substantive change,” Walz said in a statement. “I’m grateful to City of Minneapolis leadership for taking these critical steps with us to address the systemic inequities that have persisted for generations in our criminal justice system.”
Though it is not clear what changes will come to New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to respond to the anger he said he felt from the crowd at a memorial for Floyd in Brooklyn Thursday.
“You will see change in this city and you will see change in the NYPD,” de Blasio pledged to residents.
Officers facing fallout from violent behavior
Many cities are now dealing with the fallout of officers’ violence against demonstrators in previous days of protests.
An Atlanta police officer who was seen on video body slamming a woman on the first night of protests in the city has been placed on administrative assignment, the police department said in a statement Friday.
In another incident from early in the protests, a police officer in Brooklyn was seen pushing a woman to the ground on May 29. The officer was suspended without pay and their supervisor has been transferred, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Friday.
In Buffalo, New York, two officers were suspended after they allegedly pushed a 75-year-old protester to the ground Thursday. The man is hospitalized in serious condition, authorities said. On Saturday those officers pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault charges and were released on their own recognizance without bail.