US streets calmest in days, protests largely peaceful

WASHINGTON (AP) – Protests were largely peaceful and the nation’s streets were calmer than they have been in days since the killing of George Floyd set off demonstrations that at times brought violence and destruction along with pleas to stop police brutality and injustice against African Americans.

There were scattered reports of looting in New York City overnight, and as of yesterday morning there had been over 9,000 arrests nationwide since the unrest began following Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis.

But there was a marked quiet compared with the unrest of the past few nights, which included fires and shootings in some cities.

The calmer night came as many cities intensified their curfews, with authorities in New York and Washington ordering people off streets while it was still daylight.

A block away from the White House, thousands of demonstrators massed following a crackdown a day earlier when officers on foot and horseback aggressively drove peaceful protesters away from Lafayette Park, clearing the way for United States (US) President Donald Trump to do a photo op at nearby St John’s Church.

Will Robinson of Des Moines shakes hands with members of the Iowa State Patrol at Terrace Hill in Des Moines. PHOTO: AP

Tuesday’s protesters faced law enforcement personnel who stood behind a black chain-link fence that was put up overnight to block access to the park.

“Last night pushed me way over the edge,” said Jessica DeMaio, 40, of Washington, who attended a Floyd protest on Tuesday for the first time. “Being here is better than being at home feeling helpless.”

The crowd remained in place after the city’s 7pm curfew passed, defying warnings that the response from law enforcement could be even more forceful.

But the crowd on Tuesday was peaceful, even polite. At one point, the crowd booed when a protester climbed a light post and took down a street sign. A chant went up: “Peaceful protest!”

Trump, meanwhile, amplified his hard-line calls from Monday, when he threatened to send in the military to restore order if governors didn’t do it.

“NYC, CALL UP THE NATIONAL GUARD,” he tweeted. “The lowlifes and losers are ripping you apart. Act fast!”

Thousands of people remained in the streets of New York City on Tuesday night, undeterred by an 8pm curfew, though most streets were clear by early yesterday, other than police who were patrolling some areas. Midtown Manhattan was pocked with battered storefronts after Monday’s protests.

Protests also passed across the US, including in Los Angeles, Miami, St. Paul, Minnesota, Columbia, South Carolina and Houston, where the police chief talked to peaceful demonstrators, vowing reforms.

“Change is coming,” Art Acevedo said. “And we’re going to do it the right way.”

More than 20,000 National Guard members have been called up in 29 states to deal with the violence. New York is not among them, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he does not want the Guard. On Tuesday, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo called what happened in the city “a disgrace.”

“The NYPD and the mayor did not do their job last night,” Cuomo said at a briefing in Albany.

He said the mayor underestimated the problem, and the nation’s largest police force was not deployed in sufficient numbers, though the city had said it doubled the usual police presence.