Demonstrators vow to sustain momentum until change happens

WASHINGTON (AP) – Protesters stirred by the death of George Floyd vowed yesterday to turn an extraordinary outpouring of grief into a sustained movement as demonstrations shifted to a calmer, but no less determined focus on addressing racial injustice.

In Minneapolis, where Floyd died in police custody, the city agreed to ban police chokeholds and require officers to intervene any time they see unauthorised force by another officer.

The changes are part of a stipulation between the city and state officials who launched a civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death. The City Council was expected to approve the agreement, which will be enforceable in court.

The country’s most significant demonstrations in a half-century – rivaling those during the civil rights and Vietnam War eras – resumed for an 11th day nationwide with continued momentum as the mood largely shifted from explosive anger to more peaceful calls for change. Formal and impromptu memorials to Floyd stretched from Minneapolis to North Carolina, where family members gathered yesterday to mourn him, and beyond.

Josiah Roebuck, a university student who used social media to help gather 100 people to demonstrate on Friday in an Atlanta suburb, is confident the momentum will last.

Protesters kneel as they decry the death of George Floyd, Michael Ramos and police brutality against black Americans in front of the Texas State Capitol in Austin. PHOTO: AP

“Once you start, you’re going to see this every day,” said Roebuck, who has attended multiple protests. “I just want minorities to be represented properly.” Protests across the country had initially been marred by the setting of fires and smashing of windows, but Friday marked the third day of more subdued demonstrations.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, who eulogised Floyd at a heartfelt tribute in Minneapolis on Thursday, said yesterday that plans are in the works for a commemorative march on Washington on August 28, the anniversary of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Sharpton said the event would be a way to maintain momentum as the legal cases of the four officers charged in Floyd’s death move forward.

Floyd’s body was brought to North Carolina, the state where he was born 46 years ago, for a public viewing and private service for family yesterday. Then in Texas, where Floyd lived most of his life, services culminating in a private burial will take place tomorrow and on Tuesday.

In Washington, city workers and volunteers painted “Black Lives Matter” in enormous yellow letters on the street leading to the White House on Friday in a sign of local leaders’ embrace of the protest movement.

The mural stretched across 16th Street for two blocks, ending just before the church where United States (US) President Donald Trump staged a photo-op earlier this week after federal officers forcibly cleared a peaceful demonstration to make way for the president and his entourage. “The section of 16th Street in front of the White House is now officially ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza,’” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a tweet shortly after the mural was completed.

The project follows Bowser’s verbal clashes with the Trump administration over the response to protests over Floyd’s killing. Still, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter took a swipe at Bowser on Twitter by saying the project distracts from their efforts to shift funds from local police to community investment.

There were zero arrests during demonstrations in the city on Thursday and Friday and Bowser cancelled the curfew that had been in place since Monday. She said she will decide if it will be reinstated. Meanwhile, in a sign protesters’ voices were being heard, more symbols of slavery and the Confederacy came down.

Mobile, Alabama, removed a statue of a Confederate naval officer after days of protests there, while Fredericksburg, Virginia, removed a 176-year-old slave auction block after several years of efforts by the NAACP.