WASHINGTON >> Massive demonstrations against racism and police brutality filled some of the nation’s most famous cityscapes today, with tens of thousands of people marching peacefully in scenes that were more often festive than tense.
Wearing masks and urging fundamental change, protesters gathered in dozens of places from coast to coast while mourners in North Carolina waited for hours to glimpse the golden coffin carrying the body of native son George Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has galvanized the expanding movement.
Collectively, it was perhaps the largest one-day mobilization since Floyd died 12 days ago and came as many cities began lifting curfews that authorities imposed following initial spasms of arson, assaults and smash-and-grab raids on businesses. Authorities have softened restrictions as the number of arrests plummeted.
Demonstrations also reached four other continents, ending in clashes in two European cities. In the U.S., Seattle police used flash bang devices and pepper spray to disperse protesters hurling rocks, bottles and explosives, just a day after city leaders temporarily banned one kind of tear gas.
The largest U.S. demonstration appeared to be in Washington, where protesters flooded streets closed to traffic. On a hot, humid day, they gathered at the Capitol, on the National Mall and in neighborhoods. Some turned intersections into dance floors. Tents offered snacks and water.
Pamela Reynolds said she came seeking greater police accountability.
“The laws are protecting them,” said the 37-year-old African American teacher. The changes she wants include a federal ban on police chokeholds and a requirement that officers wear body cameras.
At the White House, which was fortified with new fencing and extra security measures, chants and cheers could be heard in waves. President Donald Trump, who has urged authorities to crack down on unrest, downplayed the demonstration, tweeting: “Much smaller crowd in D.C. than anticipated.”
Elsewhere, the backdrops included some of the nation’s most famous landmarks. Peaceful marchers filed across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, where officers pulled back on enforcing a curfew that has led to confrontations. They walked the boulevards of Hollywood and a Nashville, Tennessee, street famous for country music-themed bars and restaurants.
They also gathered in places as far flung as a St. Louis suburb and cities in the Deep South.
Many wore masks — a reminder of the danger that the protests could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.
Roderick Sweeney, who is black, said he was overwhelmed to see the large turnout of white protesters waving signs that said “Black Lives Matter” in San Francisco.
“We’ve had discussions in our family and among friends that nothing is going to change until our white brothers and sisters voice their opinion,” said Sweeney, 49. The large turnout of white protesters “is sending a powerful message.”
In Philadelphia and Chicago, marchers chanted, carried signs and occasionally knelt in silence. At a massive showing near the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its famous “Rocky” steps, protesters chanted “No justice, no peace!” before heading for City Hall.
Seattle police said on Twitter that several officers were injured by “improvised explosives” thrown by a crowd. Officers responded with pepper spray. Earlier, a large crowd of medical workers, many in lab coats and scrubs, marched to City Hall, holding signs reading, “Police violence and racism are a public health emergency” and “Nurses kneel with you, not on you” — a reference to how a white officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Atop a parking garage in downtown Atlanta, a group of black college band alumni serenaded protesters with a tuba-heavy mix of tunes. Standing within earshot, business owner Leah Aforkor Quaye said it was her first time hitting the streets.
“This makes people so uncomfortable, but the only way things are happening is if we make people uncomfortable,” said Quaye, who is black.
In Raeford, North Carolina, a town near Floyd’s birthplace, people lined up outside a Free Will Baptist church, waiting to enter in small groups. At a private memorial service, mourners sang along with a choir. At the front of the chapel was a large photo of Floyd and a portrait of him adorned with an angel’s wings and halo.
“It could have been me. It could have been my brother, my father, any of my friends who are black,” said Erik Carlos of nearby Fayetteville. “It made me feel very vulnerable at first.”
Floyd’s body will go to Houston, where he lived before Minneapolis, for another memorial in the coming days.
Protesters and their supporters in public office say they’re determined to turn the outpouring into change, notably overhauling policing policies. Many marchers urged officials to “defund the police,” which some painted in enormous yellow letters on the street leading to the White House near a “Black Lives Matter” mural that the mayor had added a day earlier.
Theresa Bland, 68, a retired teacher and real estate agent protesting at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, envisioned a broader agenda.
“I’m looking at affordable housing, political justice, prison reform,” she said.
Some change already has come.
Minneapolis officials have agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints and require that officers stop colleagues who are using improper force. California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state’s police-training program to stop teaching officers a neck hold that blocks blood flowing to the brain.
The police chief in Bellevue, a wealthy city near Seattle, largely banned officers from using neck restraints, while police in Reno, Nevada, updated their use-of-force policy.
Congressional Democrats are preparing a sweeping package of police reforms, which is expected to include changes to immunity provisions and creating a database of use-of-force incidents. Revamped training requirements are planned, too, among them a ban on chokeholds.
The prospects of reforms clearing a divided Congress are unclear.
While police in some places have knelt in solidarity with protesters, their treatment of some marchers also has generated more tension.
Two officers in Buffalo, New York, were charged today with second-degree assault after a video earlier this week showed them shoving a 75-year-old protester, who smashed his head on the pavement. Both pleaded not guilty.
Most protests in Europe were peaceful. In London, however, clashes with police erupted after thousands gathered amid a cold rain. In the French city of Marseille, authorities fired tear gas and pepper spray as protesters hurled bottles and rocks.
Back in North Carolina, the Rev. Christopher Stackhouse recounted the circumstances of Floyd’s death for the congregation.
“It took 8 minutes and 46 seconds for him to die,” Stackhouse said at the memorial service. “But it took 401 years to put the system in place so nothing would happen.”
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