Curfews were imposed on major US cities as clashes over police brutality erupted across America with demonstrators ignoring warnings from President Donald Trump that his government would stop the violent protests “cold.” Minneapolis, the epicentre of the unrest, was gripped by a fifth consecutive night of violence on Saturday with police in riot gear firing tear gas and stun grenades at protesters venting fury at the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during an arrest in the city on Monday.
Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta were among two dozen cities ordering people to stay indoors overnight as more states called in National Guard soldiers to help control the civil unrest not seen in the United States for years.
From Seattle to New York, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding tougher murder charges and more arrests over the death of Floyd, who stopped breathing after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In Los Angeles, officers fired rubber bullets and swung batons during a testy standoff with demonstrators who set fire to a police car.
Police and protesters clashed in numerous cities including Chicago and New York, with officers responding to projectiles with pepper spray while shop windows were smashed in Philadelphia.
Multiple arrests were reported by US media in Minneapolis, Seattle and New York as rallies continued through the night.
Trump blamed the extreme left for the violence, including widespread looting and arson in Minneapolis, saying rioters were dishonouring the memory of Floyd.
“We cannot and must not allow a small group of criminals and vandals to wreck our cities and lay waste to our communities,” the president said.
“My administration will stop mob violence. And we’ll stop it cold,” he added, accusing the loose-knit militant anti-fascist network Antifa of orchestrating the violence.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden condemned the violence of the protests, but said on Sunday that US citizens had every right to demonstrate.
“Protesting such brutality is right and necessary,” he said. “But burning down communities and needless destruction is not.”
– National Guard deployed –
Peaceful protests occurred too, including in Toronto as the movement spread beyond America’s borders.
Demonstrators nationwide chanted slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe,” which Floyd, who has become a fresh symbol of police brutality, was heard saying repeatedly before he died.
“We’re not turning the cheek anymore. Black lives matter. They will always matter. And we’re here today to show that,” said makeup artist Melissa Mock, who joined several thousand in a daytime protest in Miami.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said he was mobilising the state’s entire 13,000-strong National Guard to deal with rioters who have looted shops and set fires in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
All major freeways leading into Minneapolis were closed Saturday night with military helicopters overhead as the state braced for more rioting, arson and looting, with locals saying much of the violence was being perpetrated by outsiders.
Earlier, people congregated and chanted peacefully in Minneapolis, carrying brooms to help clean up damaged shops and streets.
Some placed flowers in front of the shop where Floyd was arrested on Monday, before his death in the hands of police was recorded in a horrifying cellphone video since seen around the world.
In Houston — where Floyd was born and raised — an old friend of his, Sam Osborne, said as an African American he feared for his life.
“I’m really messed up they killed him up. I’m wondering like, what could possibly happen to me?” he told AFP.
Houston’s mayor announced at a press conference that Floyd’s body would be brought back to the Texas city.
At least eight states — including Texas, Colorado and Georgia — activated the National Guard, who were also deployed around the White House to help handle the protests there.
– ‘Black lives matter’ –
In Washington, protesters faced off with secret service agents outside the White House for a second straight night as Trump faces the most serious spate of civil unrest of his presidency, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Looting occurred in Miami, where a curfew was also announced, while in New York mayor Bill de Blasio said a video appearing to show an NYPD police car drive into protesters in Brooklyn was “upsetting” but that he did not blame the officers.
In Los Angeles, the city’s mayor expanded a curfew order as looting broke out. Stretched emergency services scrambled to put out two blazes on Melrose Avenue, as similar scenes played out in Washington with officials extinguishing a major fire at a hotel off Layfayette Square.
There were also multiple instances of journalists covering the protests being wounded, with reports of pepper balls and rubber bullets being used on members of the press.
Protests are expected to continue even after Chauvin, the now-fired Minneapolis police officer accused of Floyd’s death, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder on Friday.
Floyd’s family and many protesters want a tougher charge brought and have also demanded that three officers who assisted him be charged as well.
Nations around the world have watched in horror at the five days of civil unrest in the United States following the death of a black man being detained by police.
But they have not been surprised.
Racism-tinged events no longer startle even America’s closest allies, though many have watched coverage of the often-violent protests with growing unease.
Burning cars and American riot police featured on newspaper front pages around the globe Sunday – bumping news of the COVID-19 pandemic to second-tier status in some places.
George Floyd died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck. It was the latest in a series of deaths of black men and women at the hands of police in America.
In the German capital of Berlin, hundreds of protesters picketed outside the US Embassy on Saturday evening under the motto: “Justice for George Floyd.”
Thousands gathered in central London on Sunday to offer support for American demonstrators. Chanting “No justice! No peace!” and waving placards at Trafalgar Square, the protesters ignored UK government rules banning crowds because of the pandemic.
In Italy, the Corriere della Sera newspaper’s senior US correspondent Massimo Gaggi wrote that the reaction to Floyd’s killing was “different” than previous cases of black Americans killed by police and the ensuring violence.
“There are exasperated black movements that no longer preach nonviolent resistance,” Gaggi wrote, noting the Minnesota governor’s warning that “anarchist and white supremacy groups are trying to fuel the chaos.”
In countries with authoritarian governments, state-controlled media have been highlighting the chaos and violence of the US demonstrations, in part to undermine American officials’ criticism of their own nations.
In China, the protests are being viewed through the prism of US government criticism of China’s crackdown on anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-owned Global Times newspaper, tweeted that US officials can now see protests out their own windows: “I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Pompeo: Should Beijing support protests in the US like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?” Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson, pointed out America’s racial unrest by tweeting “I can’t breathe,” which Floyd said before his death.
In Iran, which has violently put down nationwide demonstrations by killing hundreds, arresting thousands and disrupting internet access to the outside world, state television has repeatedly aired images of the US unrest.
One TV anchor discussed “a horrible scene from New York, where police attacked protesters.” Another state TV message accused US police agencies in Washington of “setting fire to cars and attacking protesters,” without offering any evidence.
Russia also expressed a lack of shock.
“This incident is far from the first in a series of lawless conduct and unjustified violence from US law enforcement,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“American police commit such high-profile crimes all too often.”
There also have been expressions of solidarity with the demonstrators.
Over the weekend, Lebanese anti-government protesters flooded social media with tweets sympathetic to U.S. protesters, using the hashtag (hash) Americarevolts.
That’s a play on the slogan for Lebanon’s protest movement – Lebanon revolts – which erupted on Oct. 17 last year.
Within 24 hours, the hashtag (hash) Americanrevolts became the No. 1 trending tag in Lebanon.
In another expression of solidarity with American protesters, about 150 people marched through central Jerusalem on Saturday to protest the shooting death by Israeli police of an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man earlier in the day.
Israeli police mistakenly suspected that the man, Iyad Halak, was carrying a weapon.
When he failed to obey orders to stop, officers opened fire.