MINNEAPOLIS (Dispatches) – Angry protests flared in several U.S. cities as thousands of demonstrators ignored a curfew to vent their anger over the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis this week after a white police officer knelt on his neck.
From Minneapolis to New York City, Atlanta and Washington, protesters clashed with police in a rising tide of anger over the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.
The demonstrations broke out for a fourth night despite prosecutors announcing on Friday that the policeman filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, had been arrested on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
Three other officers have been fired and are being investigated in connection with Monday’s incident, which reignited rage that civil rights activists said has long simmered in Minneapolis and cities across the country over persistent racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system.
In Detroit late on Friday, a 19-year-old man was shot dead at a demonstration by a suspect who fired from a sport utility vehicle then fled, local media reported.
The shooting took place after President Donald Trump threatened to respond to protesters whom he called thugs with shooting. "When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he said.
Many of the protesters chanted, "No justice, no peace,” and some carried signs that read, "End police brutality” and "I won’t stop yelling until everyone can breathe.”
In the video of Floyd’s death, filmed by a bystander, the 46-year-old could be heard repeatedly pleading with the officers and telling them he could not breathe.
Thousands of demonstrators also filled the streets of New York City’s Brooklyn borough near the Barclays Center arena. Police armed with batons and pepper spray made scores of arrests in sometimes violent clashes.
In lower Manhattan, demonstrators at a "We can’t breathe” rally demanded legislation to outlaw the chokehold used by a city police officer in the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was also black.
In Washington, police and Secret Service agents deployed in force around the White House before dozens of demonstrators gathered across the street in Lafayette Square.
President Donald Trump said early on Saturday that he had watched the whole thing from his window, and, if the demonstrators had breached the fence, "they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”
"That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least,” Trump wrote on Twitter. "Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”
Trump asked Pentagon chief Mark Esper for military options to help quell the unrest.
The Pentagon reportedly took the rare step of ordering the Army to prepare several active-duty U.S. military police units ready to deploy to Minneapolis.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that soldiers from North Carolina’s Fort Bragg and New York’s Fort Drum were instructed to be ready to deploy within four fours if called.
Soldiers at Colorado’s Fort Carson and Kansas’s Fort Riley were reportedly given similar instructions but were told they would have a 24-hour turn around before deployment.
Trump made the request on a phone call from the Oval Office on Thursday night that included Esper, National Security Advisor Robert O’ Brien and several others. The president asked Esper for rapid deployment options if the Minneapolis protests continued to spiral out of control, according to one of the people, a senior Pentagon official who was on the call.
"When the White House asks for options, someone opens the drawer and pulls them out so to speak.” the official said.
"If this is where the president is headed response-wise, it would represent a significant escalation and a determination that the various state and local authorities are not up to the task of responding to the growing unrest,” said Brad Moss, a Washington D.C.-based attorney, who specializes in national security.
Trump’s provocative remarks and orders triggered angry protests outside the White House which was placed on lockdown as protesters burned American flags.
Over 2,000 protestors moved to the Trump International Hotel, chanting "we can’t breathe” and "no justice, no peace” as well as carrying a variety of signs.
Others gathered near 14th and U streets in Northwest, temporarily blocking an intersection before heading to the White House. A group of diverse protesters moved towards Congress and blocked nearby traffic at the 395/695 interchange.
Several U.S. flags were seen set on fire and burned throughout the night. Others decorated N95 masks with anti-police brutality messages, some saying "We all can’t breathe” and others "America is suffocating.”
Floyd’s death has sparked outrage around the world, and his brother Philonise Floyd has branded it an "execution”.
"We are not seeing officers held accountable at the rates they should be. The number of shootings of unarmed African-Americans far exceed the number of officers being held accountable,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
In Atlanta, more than 1,000 protesters marched to the state capitol and blocked traffic on an interstate highway. Fires burned near the CNN Center, the network’s headquarters, and windows were smashed at its lobby. At least one police car was among several vehicles burnt. Police pushed back the crowd, but they hurled bottles at officers.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency in Atlanta and activated the Georgia National Guard, sending as many as 500 soldiers, as the protests moved from downtown to the affluent Buckhead neighborhood.
News broadcasts showed officers making several arrests, but police provided few details Saturday morning.
Protesters also took to the streets in other cities including Denver, Houston and Louisville, Kentucky.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota’s largest city, hundreds of protesters defied an 8 p.m. curfew around a police station that was burnt on Thursday night.
"We are out here because we, as a generation, realize things have to change,” said one marcher, Paul Selman, a 25-year-old black man.
Authorities had hoped Chauvin’s arrest would allay public anger. Late on Friday, officers opened fire with tear gas, plastic bullets and concussion grenades, scattering the crowd.