NEWS
05/31/2020 07:55 EDT | Updated 05/31/2020 08:05 EDT

Curfews, Police Crackdowns Escalate As U.S. Protesters Demand Justice For George Floyd

As night fell, tensions increased in numerous cities.

Protests prompted by the police killing of George Floyd popped up in even more cities across the U.S. on Saturday as tens of thousands of people continued to demand justice for Black victims of police brutality, and in many cities they were met with increasingly heavy-handed police crackdowns.

By late Saturday, at least 25 cities across 16 states had imposed curfews in response to the demonstrations.

Large swaths of people gathered on the streets of Austin, Texas; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami, Florida; New York City; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; Washington, D.C. and more on the warm weekend day.

As night fell, tensions increased in numerous cities. Police in Indianapolis said they were investigating multiple shootings downtown where protests had turned violent. At least one person had been killed and several people were injured in the shootings, Randal Taylor, police chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, told reporters late Saturday.  

“Enough is enough. Indianapolis, we are better than this,” Taylor said, adding the downtown area was “not safe at this time.” 

Matt Rourke/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Police push down a street in Philadelphia on May 30, 2020 during a protest over the death of George Floyd.

At least 13 police officers in Philadelphia were injured when demonstrations became violent, The New York Times reported

In L.A., the National Guard was deployed, according to the Los Angeles Times. “This is no longer a protest,” Mayor Gil Garcetti said Saturday night. “This is destruction.” 

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak activated the National Guard Saturday night to “secure government buildings” in Reno, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum declared a state of emergency in and around Fargo and activated the National Guard. Earlier on Saturday, the National Guard was deployed in the nation’s capital as well as several other states, including Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky.

The Pentagon ― in an extraordinary move ― said it put military units on a four-hour alert to be ready if Minnesota’s governor requested assistance.

In numerous cities, police employed brutal tactics. In Brooklyn, a police SUV drove through a crowd standing around a blockade, knocking several people backward, as seen in a video filmed from a building.

Another video, apparently filmed from a different angle, shows protesters throwing plastic bottles and traffic cones at a police vehicle before a second vehicle arrives and drives through the group of people.

Earlier in Brooklyn, protesters set fire to a dumpster and at least two police vehicles. Police tried to keep groups of protesters separated from each other and were seen arresting people, according to HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias, who was reporting from the scene and was later arrested while peacefully reporting

Mathias is one of several journalists who has been arrested or harassed while covering the weekend’s protests. Linda Tirado, a freelance photographer, said she was left permanently blind in one eye after a rubber bullet shot by police hit her in the face in Minneapolis on Friday. Protesters in D.C. attacked a Fox News correspondent and his crew; and crowds of demonstrators vandalized CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta.

In Nashville, protesters began to disperse once a smoke bomb went off after nightfall on Saturday at an “I Will Breathe” demonstration, where some had set fires and smashed windows in City Hall and a courthouse.

Police in several cities, including Minneapolis; Richmond, Va.; and Orlando, Florida used tear gas and other projectiles to scatter protesters. In Denver, police fired canisters of tear gas to disperse crowds soon after a curfew went into effect in the city on Saturday night. 

In an attempt to quell protests overnight, at least 25 cities implemented curfews to warn demonstrators to clear the streets — and give law enforcement power to crack down. In L.A. and Chicago, anyone out after 9 p.m. could be arrested for violating curfew, officials said. 

Many protesters faced a time crunch, because a number of curfews were announced shortly before they went into effect — giving people insufficient time to comply with the orders. In Seattle, the curfew went into effect 14 minutes after it was announced. Chicago’s curfew was announced with just 20 minutes’ notice. 

At many of Saturday’s demonstrations, protesters chanted and held signs, repeating the words that Floyd, 46, uttered as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes on Monday: “I can’t breathe.”

Morgan Davis, a 29-year-old Los Angeles resident, told HuffPost she came out to protest on Saturday because she is tired of Black people, including herself, being “terrorized.”

“I came out today because for too long, people who look like me have been terrorized for no reason except [for] our skin colour, and enough is enough,” she said. “I shouldn’t be afraid to die just because I exist.”

In Washington, D.C., hundreds of protesters gathered near the White House as police attempted to hold them back. Hundreds of people in Fayetteville came out for two separate protests.

In Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon, protesters moved aside to let an ambulance pass and cheered as the driver sounded the siren. Some protesters paused their march to dance in the streets.

“It feels like there are more things that connect us than separate us. A lot of times people try and divide us by what we look instead of seeing the human in us,” Davis told HuffPost in a text message during the protests in Los Angeles.

She added later: “It’s time for people to collectively do the right thing by each other and end racism for good.”

Protests across the country have given rioters an opportunity to burn buildings and assault police, leading to mass property damage and violence in numerous cities. For law enforcement, determining the proper response to unrest is an extremely difficult task. A federal protective service officer was killed in Oakland on Friday, and countless officers have been injured. 

But there have also been countless instances of overreach and abuse by law enforcement officials, especially with unnecessary use of less-lethal projectiles, such as rubber bullets. Numerous videos have circulated of police firing rubber bullets at and arresting protesters who clearly posed no threat.

 

After the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the Justice Department commissioned an after-action report to evaluate the response of law enforcement officers. The report stated that less-lethal munitions could be warranted in many protest situations, but that officers should take care not to use those weapons against citizens simply exercising their constitutional rights and choose a course of action that is not just authorized, but “is right.”

Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck as he struggled for breath, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Friday, but the other three officers at the scene have not been charged.

John Minchillo/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Protesters gather May 30, 2020, in Minneapolis.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday claimed that anti-fascist activists and “left-wing groups” were responsible for the violence at the protests. 

“The violence is being led by Antifa and other left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses and burning down buildings,” he said at a press conference.

“Radical left criminals, thugs and others, all throughout our country and throughout the world, will not be able to set communities ablaze,” Trump also said. “The leadership of the National Guard and the Department of Justice are now in close communication with state and city officials in Minnesota and we’re coordinating with local law enforcement.”

 

At a later speech on Saturday, Trump offered a more reserved statement.

“We support the right of peaceful protesters, and we hear their pleas,” he said. “But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace.”

This post has been updated throughout. Ryan J. Reilly contributed to this report.