US demonstrators lie face down depicting George Floyd during his detention by police during a protest against police brutality on Boston Common, on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (Photo: AP)
The nation’s streets were calmer than they have been in days since the killing of George Floyd set off sometimes violent demonstrations over police brutality and injustice against African Americans.
Earlier curfews and efforts by protesters to contain the lawlessness were credited Wednesday morning with preventing more widespread damage to businesses in New York and other cities overnight.
“Last night we took a step forward in moving out of this difficult period we’ve had the last few days and moving to a better time,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
New York police said they arrested about 280 people on protest-related charges Tuesday night, compared with 700 a day earlier. Nationwide, the number arrested rose to more than 9,000 since vandalism, arson and shootings erupted around the U.S. in reaction to Floyd’s death May 25 in Minneapolis.
At least 12 deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.
In Washington, where authorities ordered people off streets before sundown, thousands of demonstrators massed a block from the White House on Tuesday evening, following a crackdown a day earlier when officers drove peaceful protesters away from Lafayette Park to clear the way for President Donald Trump to do a photo op with a Bible at a church. A black chain-link fence was put up to block access to the park.
“Last night pushed me way over the edge,” said Jessica DeMaio, 40, of Washington, who attended a Floyd protest for the first time. “Being here is better than being at home feeling helpless.”
Pastors at the church prayed with demonstrators and handed out water bottles. The crowd remained in place after the city’s 7 p.m. curfew passed, defying warnings that the response from law enforcement could be even more forceful. But the people were peaceful, even polite.
At one point, the crowd booed when a protester climbed a light post and took down a street sign. A chant went up: “Peaceful protest!”
Pope Francis called for national reconciliation and peace, saying he has ’’witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest” in the U.S.
“My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,” he said.
Trump has pushed the nation’s governors to take a hard line against the violence, tweeting on Tuesday that “lowlifes and losers” were taking over New York’s streets. He again tweeted Wednesday: “LAW & ORDER!”
Thousands of people remained out in New York City on Tuesday night, undeterred by an 8 p.m. curfew, though most streets were clear by early Wednesday. Battered storefronts from the earlier rounds of violence could be seen in midtown Manhattan.
The New York Police Department credited the curfew, which was three hours earlier than the day before, with helping officers take control of the streets.
“The earlier curfew really helped our cops take out of the neighborhoods people that didn’t belong there,” Chief of Department Terence Monahan said on NBC’s “Today.”
Protesters also marched in Los Angeles; Miami; St. Paul, Minnesota; Columbia, South Carolina; and Houston, where the police chief talked to peaceful demonstrators, vowing reforms.
“God as my witness, change is coming,” Art Acevedo said. “And we’re going to do it the right way.”
More than 20,000 National Guard members have been called up in 29 states to deal with the violence.
In Philadelphia, a statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo was removed by the city early Wednesday after repeatedly being targeted by vandals. Rizzo presided over a police force widely accused of racism and brutality in the 1970s.
Floyd died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee against the handcuffed black man’s neck as he cried that he couldn’t breathe. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with murder. Protesters have demanded that the three other officers on the scene be charged, too.
The mother of Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter, Gianna, said she wants the world to know that her little girl lost a good father.
“I want everybody to know that this is what those officers took,” Roxie Washington said during a Minneapolis news conference, her daughter at her side. “I want justice for him because he was good. No matter what anybody thinks, he was good.”
Minnesota has opened a civil rights investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department has a pattern of discrimination against minorities.
Some protesters framed the burgeoning movement as a necessity after a long list of killings by police.
“It feels like it’s just been an endless cascade of hashtags of black people dying, and it feels like nothing’s really being done by our political leaders to actually enact real change,” said Christine Ohenzuwa, 19, who attended a peaceful protest at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul.
“There’s always going to be a breaking point. I think right now, we’re seeing the breaking point around the country.”