US Protests, Clashes with Police, Erupt in Dozens of Cities

Fires, looting and chaos erupted in dozens of American cities Saturday night as demonstrators clashed with police in protests sparked by the death last week of an African American man while in police custody in the midwestern city of Minneapolis.Police cars and government buildings were set afire. Windows of stores were smashed, while looters escaped with high-priced consumer goods. Monuments in parks were spray painted and vandalized.Police and authorities in riot gear often stood guard with restraint as boisterous but largely peaceful street demonstrations swelled in size throughout Saturday. But as some of the protests turned violent as night fell, the authorities fired pepper pellets, tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators.Many of the protesters ignored early evening curfews imposed by mayors in dozens of cities to march in the streets and clash with police. But protesters in some cities were peacefully hemmed in by police who arrested them one by one for the curfew violations.Authorities in recent days, including President Donald Trump, said they understood the rage over the death of George Floyd, but called for peaceful protests and condemned violence, vowing that it would be met with force.  Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was held handcuffed while face down on a Minneapolis street, repeatedly saying he could not breathe as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck. Floyd died, and the police officer was charged with third degree murder several days later.  The cellphone images of Floyd’s death have sparked global outrage, with protests spreading across the country.The growing protests have now extended for five days, possibly the biggest coast to coast demonstrations in the U.S. since the extended anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1960s.Members of the National Guard secure the area during a protest against the death in police custody of African-American man George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 29, 2020.The governors of Minnesota, where Minneapolis is the capital, and 11 other states called up National Guard troops to face another night of violent protests. For the past five nights, initially peaceful protesting has degenerated into looting, arson and other violence in Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul, as well as other cities across the U.S.“We are under assault,” first-term Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said as he promised “full strength” would be used to restore order.Governors in at least 11 other states — Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah, Washington, California, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas —  also activated National Guard troops to help quell protests that in many areas have turned violent.California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles, where protesters were in the street late Saturday as fires burned.In downtown Indianapolis, there were multiple shootings Saturday during a second night of protests. One person was killed and two people were wounded.  Police Chief Randal Taylor urged residents who did not live in the area to leave because, he said, “Downtown is not safe at this time.”  Nearly 1,400 people have been arrested across the country, according to an Associated Press tally Saturday. The actual total is probably higher as the protests continued through the night.Mayors across the U.S. have instituted nighttime curfews after violence occurred in their cities, including Los Angeles; Seattle; Atlanta; Denver; Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; and Columbia, South Carolina.While some protests have led to violence — including arson and looting in Minneapolis and Portland — others have remained peaceful, as in Wilmington, Delaware, and Greenville, South Carolina.In New York, protesters took to the streets for a third consecutive night and shortly before midnight, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news conference in Brooklyn, not far from the sports arena where demonstrators have gathered. He said the number of protesters still on the city’s streets at that hour numbered only in the “hundreds” and he appealed to them to go home.A police officer sprays protesters in the Brooklyn borough of New York City during a march against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, May 30, 2020.New York has not deployed the National Guard, and the mayor said the city’s police department is “the right organization” to address the situation because they understand New York.Protests near the White House in Washington erupted into violence late Saturday.  Some protesters set off fireworks and threw bottles at the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police, who used pepper spray.  Later, hundreds of protesters circled the White House and looted nearby stores as a fire erupted near the historic Hay Adams Hotel.A firework explodes by a police line as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, May 30, 2020, near the White House in Washington, D.C.President Trump spoke about the unrest Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Space Center, where he watched the SpaceX launch.“The death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, was a grave tragedy. It should never have happened. It has filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger and grief,” he said.“I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice and peace. And I stand before you in firm opposition to anyone exploiting this tragedy to loot, rob, attack, and menace. Healing not hatred, justice not chaos, are the mission at hand,” he said.But he added that Minneapolis cannot let chaos rule as it did early Friday when officers abandoned a police station and ignored protesters for several hours. Police eventually used tear gas to disperse the crowds.Tear gas canisters detonate beside a protester as authorities clear an intersection near the Minneapolis 5th Police Precinct, May 30, 2020, in Minneapolis.The president has blamed most of the violence on “Antifa and other radical left-wing groups,” and offered Minnesota federal military assistance. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement, “The outrage of our national community about what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is real and legitimate.”“Accountability for his death must be addressed,” he continued, “and is being addressed, through the regular process of our criminal justice system, both at the state and at the federal level.  That system is working and moving at exceptional speed.  Already initial charges have been filed.  That process continues to move forward.  Justice will be served.”Minnesota Governor Walz said organized agitators from outside the state were responsible for some of the violence, including white supremacists, anarchists and people associated with drug cartels.Numerous Minneapolis businesses suffered extensive property damage as protesters randomly looted stores in a Minneapolis neighborhood near the site where Floyd died.  Somali-American business owner Ahmed Siyad Shafi’i told VOA that vandals attacked all his of his stores overnight.“They broke the glass, the doors, the windows,” he said via Skype, “and take whatever they can take.”  Shafi’i, the owner of a restaurant and clothing store in South Minneapolis, called it “unacceptable” for anyone to destroy personal property and suggested peaceful protests.A man breaks a window at a tire store, May 28, 2020, in St. Paul, Minnesota.The full mobilization of the Minnesota National Guard increases its presence beyond the 700 soldiers previously deployed. Major General Jon Jensen said there would be more than 1,700 National Guard in the area by Sunday.The National Guard is a reserve military force with units in each of the 50 states, most of whose members serve part-time. The units can be activated in emergencies by the state governors to help deal with natural disasters or civil unrest.Derek Chauvin, the officer seen restraining Floyd in the video, was fired on Tuesday from the Minneapolis Police Department. He was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Bail was set at $500,000.Floyd’s family responded to the charges, demanding a tougher approach. VOA’s correspondent Margaret Besheer and VOA Somali Service contributed to this report. 

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