George Floyd protests: Fires burn across US and policeman shot dead in clashes
Cities have been set on fire as protests rage across the United States following the death of George Floyd in the Minnesota city of Minneapolis.
Protesters are demanding justice after a white police officer was seen in video footage using his knee to pin the unarmed 46-year-old black man’s neck to the streets.
Policeman Derek Chauvin, who was dismissed from the police department with three fellow officers the day after the fatal encounter, has been arrested on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges over the incident.
Today it has emerged a policeman has been shot dead and a second wounded amid protests in Oakland, California.
The footage has unleashed violent protests across the States, as the incident reignites barely simmering tensions over racial bias in the criminal justice system and police brutality in America.
The protests come amid years of ‘Black Lives Matter’ activism, following decades of pushing for change by America’s civil rights movement.
Graphic video footage taken by an onlooker’s cell phone and widely circulated on the internet has sparked global outrage.
The demonstrations are being compared to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots that responded to the videotaped arrest and beating of Rodney King.
The violent protests ended in wide-scale damage and deaths, when LA police officers were acquitted by a judge in the brutal beating of King, an African-American.
“People, they’re essentially losing faith in the system and feeling that they can’t take anymore and they take to the streets to protest, UCLA social sciences dean Darnel Hunt told NBC.
The footage whipping around the world shows Floyd with Chauvin’s knee pressed into his neck, as he gasps for air and repeatedly groans, “please, I can’t breathe,” while a crowd of bystanders shout at police to let him up.
After several minutes, Floyd gradually grows unresponsive and stops moving
He was pronounced dead at a local hospital a short time later.
The charges brought by Hennepin County prosecutors came after a third night of arson, looting and vandalism in which protesters set fire to a police station, and the National Guard was deployed to help restore order in Minneapolis.
Authorities had hoped Chauvin’s arrest would allay public anger and avert continued unrest.
But protesters have defied curfews set down in the city amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Pentagon has denied reports military police have been put on standby by President Donald Trump to head into the protests in Minneapolis.
The US Department of Defense said Saturday morning (BST): “The Department has been in touch with the (state’s) Governor and there is no request for Title 10 forces to support the Minnesota National Guard or state law enforcement.”
The reports came after about 500 demonstrators clashed anew with police in Minneapolis on Friday evening with riot police outside the battered Third Precinct building.
Police, creating a two-block buffer area around the precinct house, opened fire with tear gas, plastic bullets and concussion grenades, scattering the crowd.
Another group of protesters later converged near the city’s Fifth Precinct station until police arrived and fired tear gas and plastic bullets to break up that gathering.
A nearby bank and post office were set on fire.
However Reuters reports Friday night’s crowds were far smaller and more widely dispersed than the night before.
The news agency reported local law enforcement seemed to be attempting to keep a lower profile in a strategy seemingly calculated to reduce risk of violent confrontations.
Sympathy protests arose in urban centres around the US.
Among the larger cities with protests on Friday were Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Atlanta and Louisville, Kentucky.
A 19-year-old man protesting in Detroit was shot dead on Friday night by a suspect who pulled up to demonstrators in a sport utility vehicle and fired gunshots into the crowd, then fled, local media in the city reported.
Few if any other serious injuries or deaths have been reported in connection with the protests, so far.
In Washington, police and Secret Service agents were out in force around the White House before dozens of demonstrators gathered across the street in Lafayette Square chanting, “I can’t breathe.”
Thousands of chanting protesters filled the streets of New York City’s Brooklyn borough near the Barclays Center indoor arena.
Police armed with batons and pepper spray made scores of arrests in the sometimes violent clashes in the major city.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, announcing Chauvin’s arrest, said the video clip which has widely circulated online is a key piece of evidence.
He told media: ”We have evidence, we have the citizen’s camera’s video, the horrible, horrific, terrible thing we have all seen over and over again,”
Mr Freeman added. “We have the officer’s body-worn camera, we have statements from some witnesses.”
Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, according to an autopsy report.
Medical examiners found the combined impact of being restrained by police, ‘underlying health conditions’ and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.
Floyd, a Houston native who had worked security for a nightclub, had been arrested for allegedly using counterfeit money at a store to buy cigarettes on Monday evening.
An employee who called police described the suspect as possibly drunk, according to an official transcript of the call.
Mr Freeman said the investigation into Chauvin, who faces up to 2 5 years in prison if convicted, was ongoing and he anticipated also charging the three other officers, identified by the city as Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.
Floyd’s death recalled the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York City, who died after being put in a police choke-hold and telling the officers, “I can’t breathe.”
Mike Griffin, a community organizer in Minneapolis, told Reuters the protests reflected years of frustration over economic inequalities and the feeling that black lives were not valued as highly by police.
Mr Griffin said the charges against Chauvin were a step in the right direction, but added there needed to be systemic changes.
Earlier on Friday, Minnesota Governor declared a state of emergency and called in the state’s National Guard.
Donald Trump has been urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully, tweeting: George Floyd will not have died in vain. Respect his memory!!!”
Twitter escalated its row with the leader, after it posted warnings on his tweets about Floyd’s death in a new approach that has enraged Mr Trump.
The social media giant had pegged a warning to the president’s tweet that said the message glorified violence.
The post made reference to prostestors as ‘THUGS’ and said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
He later struck a more sombre tone at a press conference on Friday evening, saying he had spoken to Floyd’s family shortly before addressing reporters.
He urged demonstrators to avoid descending into ‘lawlessness, anarchy and chaos.’