Tens of thousands march against 'systemic racism' in US

Young woman protesting against police brutality and systemic racism in the US wears mask reading 'I can't breathe', New York City, June 2nd 2020.
Young woman protesting against police brutality and systemic racism in the US wears mask reading 'I can't breathe', New York City, June 2nd 2020. © Jessica Le Masurier

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of major US cities on Tuesday for an eighth consecutive night of protests over the death of an unarmed black man in police custody.

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Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Los Angeles, as well as Washington, DC to protest against last week's killing in Minneapolis of an unarmed black man at the hands of a white policeman.

Protesters in New York marched from Foley Square to Washington Square Park and Union Square chanting "no justice, no peace".

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Most of them wore masks and some, including Chenele Shaw, handed out water and snacks to their fellow demonstrators. Shaw described a mood of solidarity amongst the protesters: "It has been too much for too long. We've seen black men and women being killed by racist police. We need to keep the police accountable, because we're tired," she said.

Floyd's death has reignited the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans five months before the November presidential election but many protesters said the marches were also about systemic racism.

Fanta Fortune, 42, wore a mask with "401 years of injustice" written on it. "America has to clean up its system, so that it's fair for all of us, especially the ones who helped build this country," Fortune said.

She added that the protests were about more than police brutality and that she hoped that they were a sign that the civil rights movement was reawakening. 

Derrick Smith, a nurse anesthetist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, echoed her sentiments, saying that all Americans should speak out against systemic racism. Smith said that the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted deep-rooted injustices: "Covid disproportionately affects black people, same with police violence, it's all part of the public health crisis and we're here to do something about it now."  

New York City has imposed a curfew from 8pm to 5am from Tuesday through Sunday, following several nights of riots and looting in cities across the country. There were more than 700 arrests in New York on Monday night as looters targeted businesses across the city, including the flagship Macy’s department store in midtown Manhattan.

“We saw stuff last night that we will not accept,” said New York’s Democratic Mayor Bill De Blasio at a press briefing on Tuesday, highlighting incidents of rioters attacking police officers.

 

As the curfew fell, thousands of chanting and cheering protesters marched from the Barclays Center down Flatbush towards the Brooklyn Bridge as police helicopters whirred overheard.

A crowd, gathered at an entrance to the Manhattan Bridge roadway, chanted at riot police: “Walk with us! Walk with us."

Police in riot helmets, far fewer than on previous nights, watched at a distance from the sidewalk as cars honked rhythmically in support.

Construction workers boarding up the windows of stores showed their solidarity with protesters by using their tools to beat a rhythm to the demonstrators' chants.

On Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, hundreds of people filled the street from curb to curb, marching past famous landmarks of the film centre. Others gathered outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters downtown, in some cases hugging and shaking hands with a line of officers outside.

Most Americans sympathise

A majority of Americans sympathise with the protests, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.

The survey conducted on Monday and Tuesday found 64% of American adults were "sympathetic to people who are out protesting right now", while 27% said they were not and 9% were unsure.

More than 55% of Americans said they disapproved of Trump's handling of the protests, including 40% who "strongly" disapproved, while just one-third said they approved – lower than his overall job approval of 39%, the poll showed.

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.

In Minneapolis, Roxie Washington, mother of Floyd's 6-year-old daughter, Gianna, told a news conference he was a good man. "I want everybody to know that this is what those officers took from me....," she said, sobbing. "Gianna does not have a father. He will never see her grow up, graduate."

Some of those who have gathered at the site of Floyd's killing have invoked the non-violent message of the late US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated in 1968, as the only way forward.

"He would be truly appalled by the violence because he gave his life for this stuff," said Al Clark, 62, a black man who drove to the Minneapolis memorial with one of King's speeches blaring from his truck.

"But I can understand the frustration and anger."

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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