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Live Updates on George Floyd Protests: A National Push for Sweeping Reforms

2020-06-05 10:26:46

As protests stretch into a second weekend, the pandemic’s job losses hit blacks especially hard.

With memorials and demonstrations planned across the United States for the second consecutive weekend — and diverse crowds of tens of thousands marching shoulder to shoulder — a return to public life in the country has been as sudden as its closing down was three months ago.

But even as George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis last month has focused the nation’s attention on issues of systemic racism, police brutality and social inequality — and as the Trump administration’s response raised fears over the protection of basic constitutional rights — the coronavirus pandemic still loomed in the background.

On Friday, a monthly government jobs report is expected to show that employers shed another 8.5 million jobs in May, potentially bringing the unemployment rate as high as 20 percent. More than 40 million people have filed unemployment claims since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, reflecting the greatest shock to the U.S. economy since the Great Depression.

And the economic crisis, like the public health crisis, has taken a disproportionately large toll on blacks and other minorities. Black people in the country are subject to what some economists call a “first fired, last hired” phenomenon: They lose work early, and their unemployment rate continues to rise even as the labor market for white workers begins to recover.

That reality was reflected at a memorial for Mr. Floyd on Thursday in Minneapolis, where speakers removed their masks to reflect both on the life of the man whose death energized a national movement and on deeper social issues that have persisted for generations.

“It was not the coronavirus pandemic that killed George Floyd,” said Benjamin Crump, the civil rights lawyer who represents the Floyd family. “It was that other pandemic we’re all too familiar with in America — it was that pandemic of racism and discrimination that killed George Floyd.”

That message was also carried by demonstrators who again took to the streets from Seattle to New York City.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered a eulogy for Mr. Floyd, pledged that his death would be a catalyst for change, after a video showed a white police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes as he lay face down and handcuffed on the pavement, saying, “I can’t breathe.”

The protests, Mr. Sharpton said, have a straightforward symbolic message: “Get your knee off our necks.”

“Hate didn’t begin with Donald Trump. It’s not going to end with him,” Mr. Biden said. “The history of our country is not a fairy tale. It doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. But, as I said earlier, we’re in a battle for the soul of this country. It’s been a constant push and pull for the last 200 years.”

He also said he had misjudged the amount of progress the nation had made on race with the election of President Barack Obama.

“I thought we had made enormous progress when we elected an African-American president,” Mr. Biden said. “I thought you could defeat hate, you could kill hate. But the point is, you can’t. Hate only hides, and if you breathe any oxygen into that hate, it comes alive again.”

As a spring storm tore through Washington, well over 100 protesters chanted at the mouth of Lafayette Square near the White House: “We’re not leaving.”

With inclement weather and no curfew, the crowd was markedly smaller than in previous days. The security perimeter had shrunk, too, once more behind the new chain-link fence in front of the square.

Many in the crowd were soaked through. A small group hunkered down beneath the portico at the Hay-Adams hotel waiting for the rain, driving in sheets sideways, to pass. Supporters handed out snacks. A sign reading “Ask me for mask” in black marker lay trampled over and wet on the sidewalk.

At one moment, a flash of lightning followed by a crash of thunder eclipsed the hubbub of the protesters. It almost seemed as if the bolt had struck the White House grounds.

The stadium lights, planted before the line of riot police officers, flickered. The protesters erupted into applause as if the heavens had picked a side: theirs.

The largest protests in the San Francisco Bay Area have been led by high school and college students.

Simone Jacques, a 17-year-old resident of San Francisco’s Mission district, was the main organizer of a protest on Wednesday that drew a crowd of several thousand. Across the Bay, in Oakland, the largest protest was organized by two native Oaklanders who had returned home from college.

On Wednesday night, Jadyn Polk, 14, cheered as speaker after speaker stood up to demand the defunding of the Oakland police force.

“I will continue to stay in these streets regardless of how long it takes,” Jadyn said.

For more than two hours, a group of at least 1,000 protesters weaved through the streets of Brooklyn.

“If these are our streets, we walkin’ the whole streets,” a protester screamed into a megaphone as the crowd departed from Barclays Center around 8 p.m. “They’re not cornering us tonight.”

Police officers trailed behind protesters until around 10 p.m. when they turned onto Washington Avenue, where they were met with a wall of officers blocking Atlantic Avenue. As the crowd was surrounded, the police began funneling small groups away from the crowd on either side.

“Get home safe,” protesters told one another as they headed home.

“Tomorrow,” others encouraged as the crowd dwindled.

Amid a protest movement ignited by a video showing police brutality — a police officer pressing his knee against the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes — hundreds of other incidents and videos are documenting cases of violent police tactics in the United States.

They are often captured by bystanders and sometimes on live television — a compilation posted on Twitter by a North Carolina lawyer included over 300 clips by Friday morning. And they have occurred in cities large and small, in the heat of mass protests and in their quiet aftermath.

In California, an officer in a police car fatally shot a 22-year-old man who was on his knees with his hands up. In Texas, officers in Austin shot a 20-year-old protester in the head with nonlethal beanbag ammunition while aiming at someone else. He was left with brain damage and a fractured skull.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., reporters from The Miami Herald filmed officers shooting a nonviolent protester in the head with foam rubber bullets, fracturing her eye socket and leaving her screaming and bloody. In Kansas City, Mo., the police walked onto a sidewalk to use pepper spray on protesters who were yelling at them.

To those protesting police brutality, the episodes are stark proof that officers too willingly use excessive force. Experts on policing say that many of the videos show abrupt escalation on the part of law enforcement that is difficult to justify.

“It feels like the police are being challenged in ways that they haven’t been challenged in some time,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group. “They are responding, and sometimes that response is totally inappropriate.”

None of the active-duty forces had deployed in Washington, instead remaining on alert outside the city while National Guard troops took up position near the White House and elsewhere in the capital. But they became caught up in a confrontation pitting a commander in chief aiming to show strength in the face of street protests versus a military command resistant to being drawn into domestic law enforcement or election-year politics.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper initially tried to send home a small portion of the 1,600 active-duty troops on Wednesday, only to have Mr. Trump order him to reverse course. The president acquiesced on Thursday, however, according to an administration official who asked not to be named discussing internal deliberations, though it did not appear that the two men had spoken directly.

Mr. Esper ordered 700 airborne soldiers to return to Fort Bragg, N.C., by evening and a Pentagon official said the remaining 900 soldiers from the division and a military police unit from Fort Drum, N.Y., could begin withdrawing as early as Friday. More than 2,000 National Guard forces remain in Washington, a number that is set to climb to 4,500.

Yet what appeared to be an uneasy truce did not mean the conflict was over. While Mr. Trump’s advisers counseled him not to fire Mr. Esper, the president spent much of the day privately railing about the defense secretary, who along with Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opposed the president’s desire to send regular troops into the nation’s cities.

When George Floyd heard banging on the car window, he was startled but was careful not to overreact.

“What do you want me to do, officer?” he said calmly, according to a friend who was sitting in the passenger seat of his car on May 25 as the fatal encounter with the police began.

The officer answered, “Show me your hands.”

The friend, Maurice Hall, said he had observed Mr. Floyd interact with police officers before. Known as a “gentle giant,” Mr. Floyd was typically able to defuse the situation, Mr. Hall said in an interview with Erica L. Green on Wednesday. This time seemed to be different.

“When they approached, they approached with aggression,” Mr. Hall said of the Minneapolis police officers. He was interviewed this week by Minnesota investigators as a key witness in the state’s case against the four officers charged in Mr. Floyd’s death.

Mr. Hall said he and Mr. Floyd had been in the car shortly after they left a store — where Mr. Floyd was accused of paying for merchandise with a counterfeit $20 bill — when two officers approached, one on each side of the car.

Mr. Floyd complied with an instruction to show his hands, Mr. Hall said, but an officer started reaching into the car to grab them, prompting Mr. Floyd to ask why.

“Now what are you doing that for?” Mr. Hall recalled Mr. Floyd saying. “You asked to see my hands.”

The officer who was on Mr. Hall’s side of the car quickly made his way to Mr. Floyd’s side. “Floyd was not fighting — he’s just shifting from them tussling on him,” Mr. Hall said.

He said he could hear his friend’s cries during the arrest: “Please, officer. I’ve been shot before.” From across the street, he could see his friend’s feet squirming.

“He was just crying out at that time for anyone to help,” Mr. Hall said, “because he was dying.”

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Peter Baker, Kim Barker, Katie Benner, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Julie Bosman, Julia Carmel, Emily Cochrane, Nick Corasaniti, Michael Crowley, Elizabeth Dias, John Eligon, Reid J. Epstein, Tess Felder, Thomas Fuller, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Erica L. Green, Shawn Hubler, Katie Glueck, Marc Santora, Anna Schaverien, Eric Schmitt, Neil Vigdor and Daniel Victor.


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