The country has been convulsed by angry demonstrations from coast to coast for the past week in some of the most widespread racial unrest in the U.S. since the 1960s. Spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters have taken to the streets to decry the killings of black people by police.
While most of the demonstrations have been peaceful, others have descending into violence, leaving neighborhoods in shambles, stores ransacked and cars burned, despite curfews around the country and the deployment of thousands of National Guard members in at least 15 states.
“We are a country that is scared,” said Sam Page, county executive in St. Louis County, Missouri, where the city of Ferguson has been synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement since the 2014 death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, during a confrontation with a white officer. “We are country that is angry. And we are a country that is holding out for the promise of justice for all.”
In Minneapolis, Floyd’s brother, Terrence, made an emotional plea for peace at the site of where Floyd was pinned to pavement by an officer who put his knee on the handcuffed black's man neck for several minutes.
“Let’s switch it up ya’ll. Let’s switch it up. Do this peacefully, please," Terrence Floyd said. The crowd chanted, “What’s his name? George Floyd” and “One down, three to go,” in reference to the four officers involved in the arrest. Officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder, but protesters are demanding that his colleagues be prosecuted, too. All four were fired.
The gathering was part rally and part impromptu eulogy as Floyd urged people to stop the violence and use their power at the ballot box. “If I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are you all doing?” he said. “You all are doing nothing. Because that’s not going to bring my brother back at all.”
Even as police in some places tried to calm tensions by kneeling or marching in solidarity, officers elsewhere were accused of the very type of harsh treatment at the heart of the unrest. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, an officer was suspended for pushing a kneeling woman to the ground during a protest. In Atlanta, two officers were fired after bashing in the window of a car and using a stun gun on the occupants. In Los Angeles, a police SUV accelerated into several protesters, knocking two people to the ground.
In New York, the police commissioner said about six incidents were being investigated by the department’s internal affairs bureau, including a weekend confrontation in Brooklyn in which two police vehicles appeared to plow through a group of protesters. In another incident, an officer pointed a gun at protesters, drawing condemnation from the mayor.
“I think some of the actions of the NYPD have exacerbated the anger,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “There are videos of some NYPD actions that are very disturbing. There are videos of NYPD cars driving into a crowd that are very disturbing. Pulling a mask down off a person to pepper spray them. Throwing a woman to the ground. It’s on video! It’s on video!”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was considering imposing a curfew on the nation’s biggest city after groups of people broke into Chanel, Prada and Rolex boutiques and electronics stores on Sunday night.
At the same time, the mayor said the law-breaking in the city of 8.6 million people was being “fomented by a very small number of violent protesters." Around the country, political leaders girded for the possibility of more of what unfolded over the weekend: protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at police in Philadelphia, setting a fire near the White House and smashing their way into Los Angeles stores, running off with as much as they could carry.
At least 4,400 people have been arrested for offenses such as stealing, blocking highways and breaking curfew, according to a count by The Associated Press. Police officers and National Guard soldiers enforcing a curfew in Louisville, Kentucky, killed a man early Monday when they returned fire after someone in a large group shot at them, police said. In Indianapolis, two people were reported dead in bursts of downtown violence over the weekend, adding to deaths recorded in Detroit and Minneapolis.
Trump told the nation's governors in a video conference that they they “look like fools” for not deploying even more National Guard members. “Most of you are weak,” he said. He added: “You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again."
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, rejected Trump's call for the use of force. He said he told Trump during the meeting: "No one is laughing here. We’re in pain. We’re crying.” Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, wrote a post online expressing empathy for those despairing about Floyd’s killing. On Monday, he met with community leaders at a black church in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
“The vice president came to hear from us. This is a homeboy,” said Sylvester Beaman, pastor of the Bethel AME church.
Sedensky reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press journalists across the U.S. contributed to this report.