NEW YORK (Reuters) – A relaxed confidence infused a new round of street protests in New York and other major cities on Sunday, a day after some of the largest demonstrations since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody unfolded with no major violence.
The near-festive tone of many of the weekend’s major U.S. rallies stood in sharp contrast to scenes of clashes, looting and vandalism earlier in the week that authorities and activists blamed largely on outside agitators and criminals.
The outpouring of outrage and demands for sweeping police reforms followed the May 25 killing of 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.” Two other policemen helped hold Floyd down while a fourth stood watch between onlookers and the other officers.
Almost two weeks of U.S. demonstrations also inspired anti-racism marches around the globe, as protesters from Brisbane and Sydney in Australia to London, Paris and other European cities embraced the Black Lives Matter message.
The change in the tenor of the demonstrations this weekend may reflect a sense that the demands of protesters for sweeping police reform are resonating.
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, the New York Times reported.
“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.
In New York, at least half a dozen loosely organized groups of protesters marched through midtown Manhattan in bright sunshine on Sunday afternoon carrying handmade signs with slogans including “Defund the Police, Fund Schools.” One crowd gathered in Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library, then marched down 42nd Street past Grand Central station to U.N. headquarters on the East River.
Another 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 city on some recent nights, when some officers in riot gear resorted to heavy-handed tactics as they sought to enforce a curfew, and live 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, he also announced a series of reforms he said were designed to build trust between city residents and the police department.
In response to growing calls to defund police in many cities, 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.
SIGNS ON WHITE HOUSE FENCE
In the nation’s capital on Sunday afternoon, thousands of protesters took a knee on 16th Street facing the White House, chanting: “I can’t breathe,” according to social media posts.
The 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, nine of the 13 City Council members signed a pledge on Sunday promising to create a new 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.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey told NBC News on Sunday that he understood the sentiment behind the “defund the police” push but would not use that phrase himself.
Graphic – Weapons of Control: What U.S. police are using to corral, subdue and disperse demonstrators: here
Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Susan Heavey, Scott Malone, Ted Hesson in Washington and Jonathan Allen and Sinead Carew in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Brad Brooks; Editing by Frank McGurty, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney