WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Protesters began to gather in Washington for a big demonstration on Saturday as street marches across the United States to protest the killing of a black man in custody enter a 12th day and authorities move to rein in policing tactics.
George Floyd, 46, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The killing has triggered protests against racism and police brutality in cities and smaller communities nationwide, as well as demonstrations by supporters around the world.
Some activists have called on social media for a million people to attend Saturday’s rally in the U.S. capital.
“We have a lot of public, open source information to suggest that the event on this upcoming Saturday may be one of the largest we’ve ever had in the city,” Washington DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told local media without giving an estimate. Local media has predicted tens of thousands will attend.
Six buses unloaded several hundred uniformed military personnel, most wearing body armor and carrying shields, at the White House grounds early on Saturday, a Reuters photographer said. Military Humvees were parked on tree-lined city streets.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a small group of protesters sang worship songs as crowds gathered. Free bottles of water and snacks were set up outside a church nearby.
Delonno Carroll, a 27-year-old construction worker, said he had come out to demonstrate because he “simply cannot” sit and watch from home.
“Our voices need to be heard,” Carroll said. “No longer can we have a man call out for his mom on the streets and have to go through what George Floyd did.”
Footage of Floyd’s death recorded by an onlooker showed the man repeatedly pleading for his life and telling the officers he could not breathe, before he went silent.
A second memorial service was held for Floyd on Saturday in North Carolina, where he was born. Hundreds lined up at a church in Raeford to pay their respects during a public viewing, and a private service for the family was scheduled for later in the day.
Thousands took to the streets across Europe and Australia, as did hundreds in Tokyo and Seoul, in support of U.S. protests against police brutality.
Marches and rallies took place on Friday in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and Denver, among other places. The night-time protests were largely peaceful but tension remains high even as authorities in several places take steps to reform police procedures.
A federal judge in Denver ordered city police to stop using tear gas, plastic bullets and other “less-than-lethal” devices such as flash grenades, with his ruling citing examples of protesters and journalists being injured by police.
“These are peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and medics who have been targeted with extreme tactics meant to suppress riots, not to suppress demonstrations,” U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in the ruling.
In Minneapolis, Democratic city leaders voted to end the use of knee restraints and choke holds, while California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, said he would end state police training of restraints that restrict the carotid artery in the neck.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would lead the way in passing reforms including banning choke holds and making police disciplinary records publicly available.
“Mr Floyd’s murder was the breaking point,” said Cuomo, a Democrat. “People are saying enough is enough.”
Black Lives Matter activists have called for cities to defund police departments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who in April proposed increasing law enforcement funding, this week reversed course and said he would seek some $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.
BUFFALO OFFICERS ARRAIGNED
In a case from New York state that drew wide attention after two police officers were filmed shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground in Buffalo, the two officers were arraigned on second-degree felony assault charges on Saturday.
The officers, who were supported outside the court house by hundreds of law enforcement colleagues, pleaded not guilty during a virtual arraignment, according to a spokeswoman for the local district attorney’s office.
The victim was treated for a head injury, loss of consciousness and bleeding from the right ear, authorities said, and remains hospitalized in critical condition.
The demonstrations have erupted as the American public and businesses struggle to recover from sweeping lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Disease experts have said the protests could spark new outbreaks.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has sparred with U.S. President Donald Trump over his sometimes heavy-handed response to the rallies and marches in the nation’s capital, on Friday had the slogan “Black Lives Matter” painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House.
After nightfall, Bowser had light projections spelling out the words beamed onto nearby buildings, which she said on Twitter was a “night light” aimed at Trump.