WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Protesters were expected to gather in Washington for a huge demonstration on Saturday as street marches across the United States over 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 sparked protests against racism and police brutality in cities and smaller communities nationwide, as well as demonstrations around the world.
Some activists had 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.
He did not give a crowd estimate. Local media has predicted tens of thousands of attendees.
Six buses unloaded several hundred uniformed military personnel, most carrying shields or body armor, at the White House grounds early Saturday, a Reuters photographer said.
Marches and rallies took place on Friday in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and Denver, among other places, while protesters massed again, in the rain, in front of the White House. 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.
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 should lead the way in passing "Say Their Name” 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.
Two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were suspended without pay on Thursday and placed under investigation after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground.
The demonstrations have erupted as the 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, had the slogan "Black Lives Matter” painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House.
On Friday, 89 former military officials — including defense secretaries Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter — wrote in an op-ed that they were "alarmed” at Trump’s threats to order troops to quell protests.
"As former leaders in the Defense Department - civilian and military, Republican, Democrat and independent - we all took an oath upon assuming office ‘to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ as did the president and all members of the military,” they wrote. "We are alarmed at how the president is betraying this oath by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.”
The op-ed, published in The Washington Post, came hours after the release of a letter, signed by 280 former senior U.S. diplomats and military leaders, calling out Trump over his threats to use military forces to scatter protesting crowds.
Both statements come on the heels of a damning piece penned by former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who seemed to open the floodgates when he offered a blistering rebuke of Trump’s handling of Monday night’s protests in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in the nation.
Trump had urged governors to deploy National Guard troops to "dominate the streets” and stop any civil unrest, threatening to dispatch U.S. military forces to states and cities that do not meet his demands.
Though Trump has yet to invoke the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that allows the president to use the military for domestic law enforcement, he has opted to flood the nation’s capital with more than 4,500 National Guard troops, most of which are from other states.
And on Monday, streets near the White House were forcibly cleared of peaceful protesters by federal law enforcement officers, backed by National Guard troops, a short time before Trump and administration officials walked to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op.
Later than night, a Lakota helicopter flew low over protesters in the nation’s capital in a show of force unseen in an American city in recent decades.