One week after George Floyd's death, the US awakens to cities in shambles

California police watch as tear gas is deployed during demonstrations in Santa Monica on May 31, 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.
California police watch as tear gas is deployed during demonstrations in Santa Monica on May 31, 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd's death. © Mario Tama/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

A week after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and following six straight days of unrest, America began a new week on Monday with neighbourhoods in shambles, urban streets barricaded and political leaders struggling to control an outpouring of rage over police killings.

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Despite curfews in major cities across the US and the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops over the past week, demonstrations descended into violence again on Sunday. Protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police in Philadelphia, set a fire near the White House and were hit with tear gas and pepper spray in Austin, Texas, as well as in other cities. Seven Boston police officers were hospitalised.

Police officers and National Guard troops enforcing a curfew in Louisville, Kentucky, killed a man early on Monday when they returned fire after someone in a large group fired first, police said. In Indianapolis, two people were reported dead in bursts of downtown violence over the weekend, adding to the deaths recorded in Detroit and Minneapolis.

In some cities, thieves smashed their way into stores and ran off with as much as they could carry, leaving shop owners, many of them just beginning to reopen their businesses after the coronavirus shutdowns, to clean up their shattered stores.

In other places, police tried to calm tensions by kneeling in solidarity with demonstrators. The Associated Press estimated Monday that at least 4,400 people have so far been arrested in the protests.

The demonstrations were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air as a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes, including several minutes after Floyd became unresponsive.

'They keep killing our people'

Tensions with police had already been running high after two white men were arrested in May in the February shooting death of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and after Louisville police shot medical worker Breonna Taylor to death in her own home in March.

“They keep killing our people. I’m so sick and tired of it,” said Mahira Louis, 15, who was at a Boston protest with her mother on Sunday leading chants of, “George Floyd, say his name!”

The upheaval has unfolded amid the gloom and economic ruin caused by the coronavirus, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans and sent unemployment soaring to levels not seen since the Great Depression. The outbreak has hit minorities especially hard, not just in infections and deaths but in job losses and economic stress.

The scale of the coast-to-coast protests has rivaled the historic demonstrations of the civil rights and Vietnam War eras. At least 4,400 people have been arrested for such offences as stealing, blocking highways and breaking curfew, according to a count compiled by The Associated Press.

More than 1,000 protest near White House

At the White House, the scene of three days of demonstrations, police fired tear gas and stun grenades Sunday into a crowd of more than 1,000 chanting protesters across the street in Lafayette Park.

The crowd ran, piling up road signs and plastic barriers to light a raging fire in a street nearby. Some pulled an American flag from a building and threw it into the flames. A building in the park with bathrooms and a maintenance office was burned down.

The district's entire National Guard – roughly 1,700 soldiers – was called in to help control the protests, according to Pentagon officials.

As the unrest grew, President Donald Trump retweeted conservative commentator Buck Sexton, who called for the use of “overwhelming force” against the demonstrators. Trump spent much of the weekend using Twitter as a bullhorn to urge “law and order” and tougher action by police against protesters around the country.

Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, quietly visited the site of protests in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, and talked to demonstrators. "We are a nation in pain right now, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us," Biden later tweeted, posting a picture of him speaking with an African American family at the site where protesters had gathered in Delaware late Saturday.

Biden also delivered a well-received address on Friday calling on white people to shoulder the responsibility of ending America’s systemic racism. He planned to venture out again on Monday to meet with community leaders in Wilmington

'Maybe this country will get the memo'

In Salt Lake City, an activist leader condemned the destruction of property but said broken buildings shouldn’t be mourned on the same level as black men like Floyd.

“Maybe this country will get the memo that we are sick of police murdering unarmed black men,” said Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter in Utah. “Maybe the next time a white police officer decides to pull the trigger he will picture cities burning.”

Thousands marched peacefully in Phoenix, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico as well as other cities, with some also calling for an end to the fires, vandalism and theft, saying the destruction weakens legitimate calls for justice and reform.

In downtown Atlanta, authorities fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said two officers had been fired and three placed on desk duty after video showed police surrounding a car on Saturday and using stun guns on the man and woman inside.

In Los Angeles, a police SUV accelerated into several protesters in a street, knocking two people to the ground. Videos posted to social media showed New York police vehicles ramming into a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn.

'We're not done'

The officer who pinned Floyd to the pavement has been charged with third-degree murder in Minneapolis, but protesters are demanding the three other officers at the scene also be prosecuted. All four were fired.

“We’re not done,” said Darnella Wade, an organiser for Black Lives Matter in neighbouring St. Paul, where thousands gathered peacefully in front of the state capitol. "They sent us the military, and we only asked them for arrests.”

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz brought in thousands of National Guard troops on Saturday to help quell the violence that had damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings in Minneapolis over days of protests.

In tweets on Sunday, US President Donald Trump accused "Antifa" (anti-fascist activists) and the media of fueling the violence while Attorney General William Barr pointed the finger at “far-left extremist” groups without offering evidence for their assertions. 

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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