WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A relaxed confidence infused a new round of street protests in New York and other major cities on Sunday, a day after some of the largest demonstrations since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody unfolded with no major violence.
The near-festive tone of many of the weekend’s major U.S. rallies stood in sharp contrast to scenes of clashes, looting and vandalism earlier in the week that authorities and activists blamed largely on outside agitators and criminals.
Almost two weeks of U.S. demonstrations also inspired anti-racism marches around the globe, as protesters from Brisbane and Sydney in Australia to London, Paris and other European cities embraced the Black Lives Matter message.
In New York City, at least a half dozen loosely organized groups of protesters marched through midtown Manhattan in bright sunshine on Sunday afternoon carrying handmade signs with slogans including, “Defund the Police, Fund Schools.” One crowd gathered in Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library, then marched down 42nd Street past Grand Central Terminal to United Nations Headquarters on the East River.
Another group marched toward Times Square but, according to social media posts, were turned aside without incident by police who blocked access to the famous “Crossroads of the World,” best known for the dropping of the crystal ball on New Year’s Eve.
It was a far cry from the scene in the city on some recent nights, when some officers in riot gear resorted to heavy-handed tactics as they sought to enforce a curfew.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the curfew was being lifted on Sunday, a day ahead of schedule.
Criticized by activists who say he should have reined in NYPD officers during recent demonstrations, he also announced a series of reforms that he said were designed to build trust between city residents and the police department.
In response to growing calls to defund police in many cities, de Blasio told reporters he would shift an unspecified amount of money out of the police budget and reallocate it to youth and social services in communities of color.
He said he would also take enforcement of rules on street vending out of the hands of police, who have been accused of using the regulations to harass minority communities.
SIGNS ON WHITE HOUSE FENCE
In the nation’s capital on Sunday afternoon, thousands of protesters took a knee on 16th Street facing the White House chanting “I can’t breathe,” according to social media posts.
The newly erected fence around the White House was decorated by protesters with signs, including some that read “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” Tens of thousands marched in Washington on Saturday.
The protests for racial justice first erupted 13 days ago after video footage emerged showing Floyd, an unarmed black man in handcuffs, lying face down on a Minneapolis street on May 25 as a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Floyd’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Houston.
A common theme of weekend rallies was a determination to transform outrage over Floyd’s death last month into a broader movement seeking far-reaching reforms to the U.S. criminal justice system and its treatment of minorities.
The intensity of protests over the past week began to ebb on Wednesday after prosecutors in Minneapolis had arrested all four police officers implicated in Floyd’s death. Derek Chauvin, the officer seen pinning Floyd to the ground was charged with second-degree murder.
Still, anger in Minneapolis remained intense. The city’s mayor ran a gauntlet of angry, jeering protesters on Saturday after telling them he opposed their demands for de-funding the city police department.
The renewed calls for racial equality are breaking out across the country as the United States reopens after weeks of unprecedented lockdowns for the coronavirus pandemic and just five months before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
U.S. Democrats have largely embraced the activists packing into streets to decry the killings of black men and women by law enforcement, but have so far expressed wariness at protesters’ calls to defund the police.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey told NBC News on Sunday that he understood the sentiment behind the “defund the police” push but would not use that phrase himself.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York said he did not support any plans to cut police funding in his state. “You have to look at that on a case-by-case basis,” he told CNN.
Graphic – Weapons of Control: What U.S. police are using to corral, subdue and disperse demonstrators: here
Reporting by Susan Heavey, Scott Malone and Ted Hesson in Washington, Jonathan Allen and Sinead Carew in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Frank McGurty and Daniel Wallis