In Depth

Reaction: US rocked by ‘worst race riots since the 1960s’

Police criticised for ‘heavy-handed’ response to nationwide protests over George Floyd’s death

The US has been rocked by a sixth day of violence as curfews in at least 40 cities fail to quell protests triggered by the death of George Floyd.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to streets across the country on Sunday amid growing anger over the killing of the unarmed African-American man by police in Minneapolis last week during an arrest over an alleged fake $20 bill. 

Derek Chauvin, a police officer filmed pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, was charged with third-degree murder on Friday. Chauvin’s wife has announced that she is divorcing him, saying that she is “devastated”  by Floyd’s death.

The nationwide protests mark “the most widespread disorder triggered by racism since the 1960s”, says The Times, which reports that peaceful demonstrations have “descended into looting and clashes with the authorities”, with the National Guard and police officers firing “tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds”.

Around 4,100 protesters were arrested in cities across the country over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.

Yet “nearly a week after Floyd’s death, it remains unclear whether tensions nationwide are calming or escalating”, says The Washington Post.

In the capital city, President Donald Trump was taken by Secret Service agents to an underground bunker at the White House on Friday evening, after protests “erupted near the presidential residence”, the newspaper reports.  

A crowd pulled an American flag off St. John’s Episcopal Church, where presidents have historically worshipped, as “police officers periodically sprayed pepper bullets and tear gas into the crowds” in Lafayette Park, opposite the presidential residence. 

The protests outside the White House echo scenes across the US. The Times reports that looters in more than 20 Californian cities broke into businesses, carrying away “clothes, mobile phones, TVs and other electronics”, while officials in Philadelphia said that protesters had thrown rocks and petrol bombs at police. 

In Santa Monica and Long Beach, police fired tear gas and other projectiles at protesters blocking a main shopping road, after a number of buildings and businesses were looted, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Meanwhile, a tanker “drove through thousands of people marching on a Minneapolis highway”, before “protesters dragged the driver from the cab and beat him”, according to The Telegraph. Authorities said that police had arrested the driver, who suffered non-life-threatening injuries, following the “disturbing” incident.

Police nationwide have come under “intense scrutiny and criticism” over their “heavy-handed tactics”, which include “attacking and arresting protestors and members of the media”, says The Guardian.

As The New York Times (NYT) puts it, “facing protests over use of force, police respond with more force”.

Social media sites have been flooded with videos that appear to show police using violence against protestors, including footage of cops in New York City driving their vehicles into a crowd of protesters.

In Atlanta, two officers have been fired and three placed on desk duty over excessive use of force on Saturday night.

The incident came to light after a video appeared on Fox News showing a group of police surrounding a car being driven by a man, with a woman in the passenger seat. The officers are seen pulling the woman out to zip-tie her and then appear to use a stun gun on the man, who shows no signs of resisting.

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The NYT reports that following Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” tweet last week, the president is now using Twitter “to criticise local Democratic leaders for not doing more to control the protests”.

In one message, Trump said that he would be “designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization” - a reference to a loose global collective of “anti-facist” activists. However, he has “resisted calls to address the tensions roiling the country”, says the newspaper. 

Other US political leaders have been urging demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, amid fears grow that the protests could trigger a second wave of the new coronavirus. More than 100,000 Americans have already died as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, according to latest figures, with people of colour particularly hard hit.

Demonstrators have also been protesting outside US embassies in London, Berlin and Copenhagen, as outrage over Floyd’s killing spreads across the world. In London, thousands of activists chanting “black lives matter” broke social-distancing rules to march on Downing Street and Trafalgar Square yesterday.

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