US protests defy curfews as Trump faces backlash

Agence France-Presse . Washington | Published: 00:18, Jun 04,2020


Protestors march on Parliament square during anti-racism demonstration in London, on Wednesday after George Floyd, an unarmed black man died after a police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis, USA. — AFP photo

Protesters defied curfews across the United States Tuesday as leaders scrambled to stem anger over police racism while president Donald Trump rejected criticism over his use of force to break up a peaceful rally.

From Dublin to Wellington to Paris, thousands gathered for protests this week in solidarity with the US demonstrations.

In the French capital, some 20,000 protesters were out on the streets Tuesday, marching against the 2016 death of a black man, Adama Traore, in French police custody — and galvanised by the US demos. ‘What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France,’ said Traore’s sister Assa at the marches, where police clashed with protesters.

The Pope decried racism over Floyd’s killing — along with ‘self-destructive and self-defeating’ violence protests that followed across the US.  

‘We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism’, he said Wednesday of Floyd’s killing.

He was not the only religious leader to speak out. Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also chimed in — with a more political message.

‘It is the true face of America, it’s what it has always done all over the world — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries, and before that in Vietnam.”

Standoffs between police and demonstrators stretched into the night in cities from New York to Los Angeles over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man whose killing has brought once-in-a-generation protests to the nation for the past week.

But there were fewer reports of the looting and violence that had soured street demonstrations in previous nights.

Tens of thousands gathered earlier in Houston to pay a hometown tribute to Floyd, who grew up in the Texas city and is to be buried there next week.

‘Today is... about George Floyd’s family — we want them to know that George did not die in vain,’ Mayor Sylvester Turner told an estimated 60,000 people.

A tearful Roxie Washington, the mother of Floyd’s six-year-old daughter, told a news conference she wanted ‘justice for him because he was good.

‘No matter what anybody thinks, he was good.’

In New York, which on Tuesday prolonged its first curfew since World War II for the full week, AFP reporters saw hundreds refusing to go home after the 8:00 pm cutoff, instead chanting slogans and peacefully walking the streets in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Protesters attempting to cross the Manhattan bridge were pinned there for an extended period by police on both sides, but were finally allowed to return to Brooklyn, according to a New York Times reporter on the scene.

Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN it had been ‘much calmer’ a day after several Manhattan luxury stores were looted, praising an increased and ‘vast presence’ of police on the streets.

Minnesota took one of the first concrete actions to address the grievances behind the uprising, which began after Floyd’s death on May 25 in the state’s largest city Minneapolis.

The state launched a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department, looking at possible ‘systemic discriminatory practices’ going back 10 years, governor Tim Walz tweeted.

Former president George W Bush called on the US to examine its ‘tragic failures’ and to ‘listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving.’

And in Los Angeles, one of dozens of cities hit by unrest, police officers and Mayor Eric Garcetti dropped to their knees in a symbolic act of solidarity as they met marchers led by African-American Christian groups.

‘A black face should not be a sentenced to die, nor to be homeless, nor to be sick, nor to be underemployed, nor to be under-educated,’ Garcetti told them, inviting the leaders into City Hall for a discussion about the issues.

But protesters gathered outside Garcetti’s residence late into the evening. An AFP reporter witnessed a group of at least 200 refusing to disperse and subsequently arrested.

In Washington DC, thousands returned to the streets Tuesday for a peaceful ‘Black Lives Matter’ march.

Hours after the 7:00pm curfew protesters could be heard chanting, as National Guard troops stood on the streets near the White House and helicopters hovered above. Broadcast footage showed police firing tear gas shortly after midnight, but the situation appeared to be calm overall.

‘I’m just tired, essentially, of being scared of police, of not getting justice,’ said Jada Wallace, an 18-year-old protester outside the White House earlier who said she was ready to risk arrest.

In the same place on Monday, federal police had abruptly opened tear gas and fired rubber bullets to break up a non-violent protest, clearing a path for Trump to stroll outside for a photo-op at a historic church damaged the previous night.

The move was loudly condemned by religious leaders, the president’s political rivals, and onlookers around the country.

But Trump, who has rejected the traditional presidential role of healer, voiced glee on Twitter over the response in Washington and accused the leadership of New York — led by the rival Democratic Party — of succumbing to ‘Lowlife & Scum.’

‘Overwhelming force. Domination,’ he wrote, adding: ‘Washington, DC, was the safest place on earth last night!’

He pushed back against the criticism later on Twitter, writing: ‘You got it wrong! If the protesters were so peaceful, why did they light the Church on fire the night before? People liked my walk.’

Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic rival in November elections, denounced the crackdown as an abuse of power and promised, if elected, to tackle the ‘systemic racism’ in the country.

‘Donald Trump has turned this country into a battlefield driven by old resentments and fresh fears,’ Biden said in a speech in Philadelphia, also hit by violence.

The United States also faced unusual, if polite, criticism from some international allies including Germany, Britain and Australia.

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