Fires near White House, another night of unrest for US as BLM protests rage

Fires near White House, another night of unrest for US as BLM protests rage
A masked protester stands in front of a fire during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Los Angeles, California, US. Photo: REUTERS/Kyle Grillot
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Washington: Protesters started fires near the White House as tensions with police mounted during a third straight night of demonstrations held in response to the death of George Floyd at police hands in Minnesota.

An hour before the 11pm curfew, police fired a major barrage of tear gas stun grenades into the crowd of more than 1,000 people, largely clearing Lafayette Park across the street from the White House and scattering protesters into the street.

Protesters piled up road signs and plastic barriers and lit a raging fire in the middle of H Street.

Some pulled an American flag from a nearby building and threw it into the blaze. Others added branches pulled from trees. A cinder block structure, on the north side of the park, that had bathrooms and a maintenance office, was engulfed in flames.

Fires near White House, another night of unrest for US as BLM protests rage
A masked protester stands in front of a fire during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Los Angeles, California, US, Sunday. Photo: REUTERS/Kyle GrillotLaw enforcement officers take position during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Saturday. Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

US cities clean up, prepare for another night of unrest

America's cities boarded up windows, swept up glass and covered graffiti as the country's most significant night of protests in a half-century spilled into another day of unrest fuelled by killings of black people at the hands of police.

The turbulence sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes, shook not only the streets of New York and Los Angeles, but dozens of smaller communities such as Fargo, North Dakota, and Lincoln, Nebraska. The damage extended even to buildings near the White House.

They keep killing our people, said Mahira Louis, 15, who marched with her mother and several hundred others through downtown Boston on Sunday. I'm so sick and tired of it.

Fires near White House, another night of unrest for US as BLM protests rage
Protestors demonstrate outside an entrance to the White House over the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, Sunday. Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Peaceful protests involving tens of thousands of people on Saturday gave way, in some places, to violence, with police vehicles torched, stores emptied and objects hurled at officers. The police response varied from restrained to aggressive, with officers at times firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Police and peaceful protesters alike pleaded for a stop to violence, saying it weakened calls for justice and reform.

It only hurts the cause, said Danielle Outlaw, head of the police force in Philadelphia, where more than 200 people were arrested as fires and looting engulfed the heart of the city.

Disgust over generations of racism in a country founded by slaveholders combined with a string of recent racially charged killings to stoke the anger. Adding to that was angst from months of lockdowns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt communities of colour, not only in terms of infections but in job losses and economic stress.

The droves of people congregating for demonstrations threatened to trigger new outbreaks, a fact overshadowed by the boiling tensions.

Maybe this country will get the memo that we are sick of police murdering unarmed black men, said Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah. Maybe the next time a white police officer decides to pull the trigger, he will picture cities burning. The scale of the protests, sweeping from coast to coast and unfolding on a single night, rivaled the historic demonstrations of the civil rights and Vietnam War eras.

Curfews were imposed in major cities around the US, including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. About 5,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen were activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C. In Minneapolis, police, state troopers and National Guard members showed new force Saturday in breaking up demonstrations after three days of police largely avoiding engaging protesters.

Fires near White House, another night of unrest for US as BLM protests rage
Police aim at a Reuters TV cameraman during nationwide unrest following the death of of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Saturday. Photo: REUTERS TV/Julio Cesar-Chavez

Dozens of protests were underway or expected Sunday, from Miami to Kansas City to San Francisco. They went forth largely without incident, but sparks of crime continued.

In Philadelphia, people robbed stores in broad daylight, and at least one more police vehicle was set ablaze. Streets leading downtown were closed. Chicago likewise restricted downtown access and called in the National Guard.

At the Minneapolis intersection where Floyd was killed, people gathered with brooms and flowers, saying it was important to protect what they called a sacred space. The intersection was blocked with the traffic cones while a ring of flowers was laid out.

Among those descending on Minneapolis was Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown, whose killing by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, set off unrest in 2014.

I understand what this family is feeling. I understand what this community is feeling, he said.

Fires near White House, another night of unrest for US as BLM protests rage
NYPD officers walk near an explosion caused by an unidentified dispositive as they clash with protesters during a march against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, Saturday. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

County Commissioner Angela Conley said the demonstrations and confrontations with police would continue until the other three officers who were at the scene when Floyd was pinned down are arrested and prosecuted. The officer who held his knee on Floyd's neck, Derek Chauvin, was charged last week with murder. All four officers have been fired.

We'll continue to have this militarized presence in our community until justice is done, Conley said.

Fires near White House, another night of unrest for US as BLM protests rage
Protester wearing a mask due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak is seen during nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Long Beach, California, Sunday. Photo: REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

In tweets Sunday, President Donald Trump blamed anarchists and the media for fueling the violence. Attorney General William Barr pointed a finger at far left extremist groups. Police chiefs and politicians accused outsiders of coming in and causing the problems.

Few parts of America were untouched. Protesters set fires inside Reno's city hall, and police launched tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators in Fargo, North Dakota. In Salt Lake City, demonstrators flipped a police car and lit it on fire. Police said six people were arrested and an officer was injured after being struck in the head with a baseball bat.

By Sunday, the fury had spread to Europe, where thousands gathered in London's Trafalgar Square, clapping and waving placards despite government rules barring crowds because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In New York, a video Saturday showed two police cruisers lurching into a crowd of demonstrators who were pushing a barricade against one of them and pelting it with objects. Several people were knocked to the ground. It was unclear if anyone was hurt.

The mistakes that are happening are not mistakes. They're repeated violent terrorist offences, and people need to stop killing black people, Brooklyn protester Meryl Makielski said.  

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