MINNEAPOLIS — Demonstrations across the U.S. to condemn racism and police abuses remained large but mostly without the violence of previous nights on the eve of a Thursday memorial service for George Floyd that kicks off a series of events to mourn the man whose death empowered a national movement.
The calmer protests followed a decision by prosecutors to charge three more police officers and file a new, tougher charge against the officer at the centre of the case.
The most serious new charge Wednesday was an accusation of second-degree murder against Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck. The three other officers at the scene were charged for the first time with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to four decades in prison.
The move punctuated an unprecedented week in modern American history, in which largely peaceful protests took place in communities of all sizes but were rocked by bouts of violence, including deadly attacks on officers, rampant thefts and arson in some places. In Minneapolis alone, more than 220 buildings were damaged or burned, with property damage topping $55 million, city officials said.
Nationwide, more than 10,000 people have been arrested in connection with unrest, an Associated Press tally shows. More than a dozen deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.
Floyd’s name has become a rallying cry in other countries, too, unleashing protests against police violence and racial injustice.
In the U.S., protests were still big, but largely peaceful, and most police forces kept a mainly hands-off policy, even after curfews took effect. NBA stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson marched with protesters in Oakland. The Duchess of Sussex, the former Meghan Markle, told high school graduates in Los Angeles in a virtual address that “the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing, because George Floyd’s life mattered.”
Some demonstrators lay down to represent the amount of time a white police officer pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck while he pleaded for air.
The first of three memorial gatherings for the man whose name has been chanted by hundreds of thousands of people was planned for Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis, with the Rev. Al Sharpton and family attorney Ben Crump speaking. Floyd’s body will then travel to Raeford, North Carolina, where he was born 46 years ago, for a public viewing and private family service Saturday.
And there will be a large service Monday in Houston, where Floyd spent most of his life. That will include addresses from Sharpton, Crump, and the Rev. Remus E. Wright, the family pastor. Former Vice-President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, may attend. A private burial will follow.
Crump called the additional charges against the officers “a bittersweet moment” and “a significant step forward on the road to justice.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, said Americans need to “seize the moment” and confront the effects of racism, including unequal educational and economic opportunities.
“I think this is probably our last shot, as a state and as a nation, to fix this systemic issue,” Walz said.
Hundreds of protesters were in New York City’s Washington Square Park when the charges were announced.
“It’s not enough,” protester Jonathan Roldan said, insisting all four officers should have been charged from the start. “Right now, we’re still marching because it’s not enough that they got arrested. There needs to be systematic change.”
The mood in New York turned sombre later in the day after a police officer on an anti-looting patrol was ambushed by a man who walked up behind him and stabbed him in the neck. Two other officers suffered gunshot injuries to their hands in the struggle, and the attacker was in critical condition after being shot by police.
Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, counts that still stand.
The new second-degree murder charge alleges that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death without intent while committing another felony, namely third-degree assault. It carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, compared with a maximum of 25 years for third-degree murder.
The other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — face the same maximum penalties for aiding and abetting. All three were in custody by Wednesday evening. The multiple charges against each officer would offer a jury more options to find them guilty.
Also Wednesday, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office released the full autopsy report on Floyd, which noted he had previously tested positive for COVID-19 but was apparently asymptomatic. The report was released with the family’s permission. A summary had said Floyd had a heart attack while being restrained.
President Donald Trump has pushed the nation’s governors to take a hard line against the violence. He again tweeted Wednesday: “LAW & ORDER!”
An overpowering security force — including officers from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons and, according to a senior defence official, at least 2,200 National Guard soldiers — was out in force Wednesday as thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated in the nation’s capital.
Military vehicles were parked on streets near the White House. An FBI plane, an Army surveillance plane and a Park Police helicopter circled overhead.
At one point near the White House, protesters knelt and sang “Amazing Grace” amid officers in riot gear. “We are not going anywhere!” they chanted. There were no signs of confrontations.
Protester Jade Jones, 30, said the demonstrations would continue despite the new charges.
“That’s the least they could do,” Jones said. “It’s not going to wipe away 400 years of pain.”
In New York City, where high-end stores were looted in earlier days, some retailers fortified their property. Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows were boarded up, then covered in chain-link fencing and razor wire as a line of tattooed men with dogs stood guard out front.
When other black men were killed at the hands of U.S. police in recent years, the news reached global headlines, but not the streets. This time is different.
Silent protesters in front of the U.S. Embassy in Paris carried signs reading “We are all George Floyd” – in French. Protesters waved banners bearing his name from Johannesburg to London, Tel Aviv and Sydney, meanwhile calling attention to police violence, racial injustice or other problems closer to home.
“It’s a solidarity question. We stand with our brothers, internationally, our sisters as well, but the same thing is happening here. It’s no different,” Isaak Kabenge said in Stockholm.
By The Associated Press