WASHINGTON — A mounting wave of protests demanding police reform after the killing of a black man in Minneapolis swept across the United States on Sunday, building on the momentum of huge demonstrations across the country the day before.
The near-festive tone of many of the weekend protests unfolded with no major violence, in sharp contrast to heated clashes between marchers and police in previous days.
The outpouring of protests followed the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after being pinned by the neck for nine minutes by a white officer’s knee. A bystander’s cellphone captured the scene as Floyd pleaded with the officer, choking out the words “I can’t breathe.”
“I have cops in my family, I do believe in a police presence,” said Nikky Williams, a black Air Force veteran who marched in Washington on Sunday. “But I do think that reform has got to happen.”
The change in the tenor of the demonstrations this weekend may reflect a sense that the demands of protesters for sweeping police reform were resonating in many strata of American society.
In a step that would have seemed unthinkable just two weeks ago, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged on Sunday to disband the police department in favor of a community-led safety model.
“A veto-proof majority of the MPLS City Council just publicly agreed that the Minneapolis Police Department is not reformable and that we’re going to end the current policing system,” Alondra Cano, a member of the Minneapolis council, said on Twitter.
One of the largest protests on Sunday was in Los Angeles. A crowd estimated by a local television station at 20,000 packed Hollywood Boulevard, filling the street from curb to curb along the famous strip from Vine Street to Highland Avenue. The crowd assembled after a Twitter message from the rapper YG on Saturday.
In New York, at least half a dozen loosely organized groups of protesters marched through midtown Manhattan carrying handmade signs with slogans including “Defund the Police, Fund Schools.”
One group marched toward Times Square but was turned aside without incident by police who blocked access to the famous “Crossroads of the World,” best known for the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop. The area remained cordoned off by police hours later.
It was a far cry from the scene in the country’s most populous city on some recent nights, when some officers in riot gear resorted to heavy-handed tactics as they sought to enforce a curfew, and TV images showed looters running rampant on main avenues.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the curfew was being lifted on Sunday, a day ahead of schedule.
Criticized by activists who say he should have reined in NYPD officers during recent demonstrations, the mayor also announced a series of reforms he said were designed to build trust between city residents and the police department.
De Blasio told reporters he would shift an unspecified amount of money out of the police budget and reallocate it to youth and social services in communities of color.
He said he would also take enforcement of rules on street vending out of the hands of police, who have been accused of using the regulations to harass minority communities.
In the nation’s capital, a large and diverse gathering of protesters packed streets near the White House, chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” and “I can’t breathe.”
A newly erected fence around the White House was decorated by protesters with signs, including some that read: “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.”
A common theme of weekend rallies was a determination to transform outrage over Floyd’s death last month into a broader movement seeking far-reaching reforms to the U.S. criminal justice system and its treatment of minorities.
The intensity of protests over the past week began to ebb on Wednesday after prosecutors in Minneapolis arrested all four police officers implicated in Floyd’s death. Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneed Floyd, was charged with second-degree murder.
Still, anger in Minneapolis remained intense. The city’s mayor ran a gauntlet of jeering protesters on Saturday after telling them he opposed their demands for defunding the city police department.
During a community meeting in a park on Sunday, nine of the 13 City Council members signed a pledge to create a public safety system, work with the community on changes and adopt the changes through budget and policy actions in the coming weeks, the New York Times reported.
The renewed calls for racial equality are breaking out across the country as the United States reopens after weeks of unprecedented lockdowns for the coronavirus pandemic and just five months before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
U.S. Democrats have largely embraced the activists packing into streets to decry the killings of black men and women by law enforcement, but have so far expressed wariness at protesters’ calls to defund the police.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama said in an YouTube commencement address for 2020 graduates that the protests roiling America right now “speak to decades of inaction over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices in the broader criminal justice system.”