Protests swell in major U.S. cities despite curfews, Trump vow to crack down

WASHINGTON/MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Thousands of demonstrators took to a knee in the grass outside the U.S. Capitol, chanting “silence is violence” and “no justice, no peace,” just before a curfew as peaceful protests against police brutality swelled in major cities on Tuesday.

The throng then stood up and chanted “take a knee” and “who do you protect?” as police faced them from the other side of a metal fence.

Evening curfews were ordered in dozens of cities following a week of demonstrations over the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Largely peaceful during the day, the crowds have erupted into violence and looting after dark.

Protesters in several cities massed peacefully in large numbers on Tuesday including in Los Angeles, Washington and Philadelphia. In New York City, thousands held an orderly march up 86th Street, chanting and holding signs saying “no justice, no peace” and “say his name, George Floyd.”

Hundreds of club-carrying police on foot and police cars followed them. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the National Guard should patrol New York City’s streets to put an end to fires, looting and property destruction.

In Floyd’s hometown of Houston, thousands gathered for a march that was organized by Floyd’s friends and family. On Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, hundreds of people filled the street from curb to curb.

Floyd died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25, reigniting the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans. A painful reexamination of race relations has swept the country five months before a divided America votes in a presidential election..

The officer who knelt on Floyd, 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved were fired but not yet charged.

In Minneapolis, Roxie Washington, mother of Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter Gianna, told a news conference that he was a good man. “I want everybody to know that this is what those officers took from me….,” she said, sobbing. “Gianna does not have a father. He will never see her grow up, graduate.”

NEW YORK CITY REJECTS GUARDS

The head of the U.S. National Guard said on Tuesday that 18,000 Guard members were assisting local law enforcement in 29 states.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials seemed stunned by mayhem overnight when police in some cities faced gunfire, rocks and projectiles from hostile crowds.

Protesters hold placards as they rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Demonstrators smashed windows and looted luxury stores on tony Fifth Avenue in New York, and set fire to a Los Angeles strip mall. Four police officers were shot in St. Louis and one in Las Vegas who was critically wounded, authorities said.

Trump has threatened to use the military to battle violence that has erupted nightly, often after a day of peaceful protests. He has derided local authorities, including state governors, for their response to the disturbances.

The protests have escalated racial tensions in a country hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with African Americans suffering a disproportionately high number of cases and hit hard by job losses from lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus.

Some of those who have gathered at the site of Floyd’s killing have invoked the non-violent message of the late U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated in 1968, as the only way forward.

“He would be truly appalled by the violence because he gave his life for this stuff,” said Al Clark, 62, a black man who drove to the Minneapolis memorial with one of King’s speeches blaring from his truck.

“But I can understand the frustration and anger.”

In Atlanta, six officers will face charges for an incident in which two college students were removed from their car and tased, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told a briefing. Two of the six officers were terminated on Sunday.

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A police officer in Sarasota, Florida, was placed on leave on Tuesday after video surfaced showing the officer kneeling on a man’s back and neck during an arrest in May.

Officers were injured in clashes elsewhere, including one who was in critical condition after being hit by a car in the Bronx, police said.

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Lisa Lambert, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Zachary Fagenson, Brendan O’Brien, Nathan Layne, Susan Heavey, Brad Brooks, Diane Craft and Sharon Bernstein; Writing by Paul Simao and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman