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Protests Swell Across America as George Floyd Is Mourned Near His Birthplace

2020-06-07 01:09:46

MINNEAPOLIS — Protesters in Philadelphia stood on the steps of an art museum and demanded cuts to the city’s police budget. A crowd gathered outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion stood silently to hear stories from victims of police abuse. At a huge rally in Washington, demonstrators filled the streets, and speakers cried out to ensure that a death like that of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer never happen again.

Demonstrations across America that began as spontaneous eruptions of outrage over police violence appeared to have cohered by Saturday into a national mass protest movement against systemic racism, marked more by organization and determination than by street fury.

Protesters vowed to keep up the momentum toward overhauling what they said was a broken law enforcement system plagued by racial injustice. Some took credit for changes that have already occurred in some cities.

In Minneapolis, which has been convulsed with protests for the past 12 days, city officials announced measures on Friday that are meant to rein in aggressive police tactics, including a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds. And in Denver, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday to restrict the use by the police of rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters.

“I think we’re all just trying to keep the pressure on and make sure this issue stays at the forefront of the national discourse,” said Mary Levy, 50, a law professor at Temple University who was part of a throng of protesters outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday afternoon.

Many of the day’s gatherings appeared larger than previous rallies, especially the one in Washington. At one point, it felt as if the entire city had emptied into downtown as lines of protesters snaked their way through side streets while others converged in nearby parks, eclipsing the turnout at prior protests.

Outside Lafayette Square, where federal law enforcement officers had forcibly evicted peaceful protesters last week, the atmosphere on Saturday was more like that of a street fair or a music festival. Cookies and Cool Ranch Doritos were arrayed on folding tables, and masks emblazoned with “I can’t breathe” were on sale along with Black Lives Matter T-shirts. Even portable toilets were on hand.

Marchers on 16th Street did a coordinated dance, “the wobble,” as the rapper V.I.C. blared through speakers. North of the White House, a Shake Shack handed out water.

For all that, the black chain-link fences forming a perimeter around the White House grounds had been reinforced with concrete Jersey barriers, and security personnel from an alphabet of agencies, including the National Guard, stood by in a kaleidoscope of uniforms, braced for any trouble.

Joelle Mitchell, 17, was unfazed as she made her way toward the White House. She had been working at a dog day care facility outside Annapolis, Md., all week, and this was her first day to join the protests.

She expressed surprise at how peaceful it all was, given the bleak news coverage she had seen about protests across the city and the country.

“It really is our responsibility that this doesn’t happen anymore,” Ms. Mitchell said.

As the protests were getting underway Saturday, mourners at a memorial service in the tiny railroad town of Raeford, N.C., passed by the plush blue coffin of Mr. Floyd, whose body was dressed in a tan suit and a brown tie. He was born in Fayetteville, about 25 miles away, and dozens of his relatives, including a sister, live in the area.

Mr. Floyd’s coffin arrived at the viewing, held at a Free Will Baptist church called Cape Fear Conference B, in a black hearse as a large group of people outside chanted “Black power,” “George Floyd!” and “No justice, no peace.” Some wore T-shirts printed with “I Can’t Breathe,” and a few carried small posters.

At the service, the local sheriff received a standing ovation when he said of the nation’s police officers, “We are part of the problem.”

The sheriff, Hubert A. Peterkin of Hoke County, N.C., told mourners that law enforcement officers must recognize and eliminate racism within their ranks. Looking directly at Mr. Floyd’s relatives in the front rows of the church, Sheriff Peterkin, who is black, said ingrained racism had led to Mr. Floyd’s death.

“If there were four brothers that threw a police officer on the ground and one of them put his knee on that officer’s neck and killed him on a video,” he said, there would have been “a national manhunt — and they would have been charged with murder immediately.”

Mr. Floyd’s body was transported from Minneapolis, where another memorial service was held last week. After the memorial on Saturday, it will be transported to Houston for a third memorial service and burial next week.

Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died May 25 after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer. Video widely shared on social media showed Mr. Floyd crying out for his mother and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Many demonstrations now include 8 minutes 46 seconds of silence, marking the length of time the police officer’s knee was pressed into Mr. Floyd’s neck.

Demonstrations were continuing in Minneapolis on Saturday, still large but considerably calmer and more organized than last week, though no less passionate. Police officers hung back or did not appear at all at the rallies — a marked difference from the clashes between officers and protesters last weekend.

Outside Mayor Jacob Frey’s house, protesters shouted at him when he would not commit on the spot to abolishing the police department, local news outlets reported. They yelled “Go home, Jacob, go home!” and “Shame! Shame!” as he walked away from the crowd.

Hundreds of demonstrators stood in silence outside the governor’s mansion in neighboring St. Paul to hear relatives of a dozen men who had died in police custody share their experiences.

Amity Dimock spoke about her son Kobe E. Dimock-Heisler, a mentally ill 21-year-old who was fatally shot by police at home last year after reports that he was wielding a hammer and a knife while fighting with his grandparents, according to a local newspaper.

Ms. Dimock said the authorities had recently allowed the family to view video footage of Mr. Dimock-Heisler’s death, only after the new interest in transparency that had come about because of Mr. Floyd’s case. As she spoke, she broke down crying, and someone pulled up a chair for her.

Leigh Finke, 39, stood not far away, waving a Black Lives Matter flag in rainbow colors. She’s been protesting for nine days.

“Every day it feels better,” she said. “Finally things are starting to change a little bit.” Pointing to the ban on chokeholds and the City Council’s talking about reducing police budgets, she said, “That’s real change.”

As she spoke, a white woman drove by, yelling about Black Lives Matter, “It’s a racist movement — white lives matter!” A black protester wearing a veil responded: “That’s just your opinion.”

In Seattle, a demonstration organized by health care workers drew thousands who walked from Harborview Medical Center to City Hall, with many wearing scrubs and lab coats and carrying signs with slogans like “Black Health Matters” and “Racism Is a Public Health Emergency.” Seattle officials encouraged people who had attended recent protests to take advantage of free coronavirus testing sites that the city was opening.

Thousands of Philadelphians rallied peacefully at the steps of the art museum — famous from the film “Rocky” — calling for cuts of at least 10 percent of the budget for the city’s police department, one of the few city agencies that is set to get more funding in a new budget proposed by Mayor Jim Kenney in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some participants said the mood was less charged than on earlier days in Philadelphia, when shops were looted and the police fired tear gas to control protesters.

“My sense is that the initial wave of anger has calmed down a little,” said Pat Oelschlager, 23, of Fort Washington, Pa. But the voices “still seem to be pretty loud, and it’s good to hear people making concrete demands.”

In New York City, thousands of people gathered near the northwest corner of Central Park for a demonstration called the March for Stolen Dreams and Looted Lives, and other events and marches in the city also drew sizable crowds.

Constance Malcolm, whose son Ramarley Graham was killed by a New York City police officer in his home in 2012, had to fight back tears before speaking into the megaphone.

“I’m tired of crying,” Ms. Malcolm said. “We need our voices to be heard. That’s happening now and we need to take advantage of it.”

She then had a simple directive: “Vote.”

Dionne Searcey reported from Minneapolis, and David Zucchino from Raeford, N.C. Contributing reporting were Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Katie Benner, Sabrina Tavernise and Thomas M. Gibbons-Neff from Washington, Kimiko de Freytas-Kamura from Minneapolis, Eric Killelea from St. Paul, Minn., Jon Hurdle from Philadelphia, Mike Baker from Seattle, Patricia Mazzei and Neil Reisner from Miami, Adam Popescu from Los Angeles and Terence McGinley from New York.


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