WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Minneapolis city council members pledged to abolish the police force whose officer knelt on the neck of a dying George Floyd, as the biggest civil rights protests in more than 50 years demanded a transformation of U.S. criminal justice.
Demonstrations have swept a country slowly emerging from the coronavirus lockdown in the two weeks since Floyd, an unarmed black man, 46, died after choking out the words “I can’t breathe” under the knee of a white police officer.
Though there was violence in the early days, the protests have lately been overwhelmingly peaceful. They have deepened a political crisis for President Donald Trump, who repeatedly threatened to order active duty troops onto the streets.
Trump took to Twitter around midnight to lash out at the boss of the National Football League, America’s biggest sport, who, in a sign of a cultural shift, swung behind protesting players and adopted their slogan “Black Lives Matter”.
Huge weekend crowds gathered across the country and in Europe. The high-spirited atmosphere was marred late on Sunday when a man drove a car into a rally in Seattle and then shot and wounded a demonstrator who confronted him.
“I have cops in my family, I do believe in a police presence,” said Nikky Williams, a black Air Force veteran who marched in Washington on Sunday. “But I do think that reform has got to happen.”
The prospect that Minneapolis could abolish its police force altogether would have seemed unthinkable just two weeks ago. Nine members of the 13-person city council pledged on Sunday to do away with the police department in favor of a community-led safety model, though they provided little detail.
“A veto-proof majority of the MPLS City Council just publicly agreed that the Minneapolis Police Department is not reformable and that we’re going to end the current policing system,” Alondra Cano, a member of the Minneapolis council, said on Twitter.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters he would shift some funds out of the city’s vast police budget and reallocate it to youth and social services. He said he would take enforcement of rules on street vending out of the hands of police, accused of using the regulations to harass minorities.
Curfews were removed in New York and other major cities including Philadelphia and Chicago.
NFL APOLOGIZES, TRUMP FIRES BACK
Trump said on Twitter he ordered the National Guard to start withdrawing from Washington D.C. “now that everything is under perfect control”.
Trump has used the Black Lives Matter protest movement as a foil for years to promote himself as a law-and-order candidate.
When black football players knelt during the national anthem to protest against police brutality in 2016, Trump denounced them with an expletive and the NFL effectively took his side, telling players to stand or stay off the field for the song.
Over the weekend, the NFL issued a video of Commissioner Roger Goodell apologizing for failing to listen to black players: “We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter,” Goodell said.
Trump fired back overnight: “Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?” he tweeted.
In the nation’s capital, a large and diverse gathering of protesters had packed streets near the White House, chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” and “I can’t breathe.”
A 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.”
The “Black Lives Matter” protest slogan was also embraced on Sunday by Trump’s predecessor as Republican candidate for president, Senator Mitt Romney, who marched alongside evangelical Christians in Washington.
Romney told the Washington Post that he wanted to find “a way to end violence and brutality, and to make sure that people understand that black lives matter”.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama also addressed the protests in a YouTube speech for 2020 high school and college graduates. The demonstrations “speak to decades of inaction over unequal treatment and a failure to reform police practices in the broader criminal justice system,” Obama said.
“You don’t have to accept what was considered normal before,” he told the graduates. “You don’t have to accept the world as it is. You can make it the world as it should be.”
For a graphic on Weapons of Control: What U.S. police are using to corral, subdue and disperse demonstrators: here
For a graphic on Floyd’s death sparks worldwide protests:
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Andrea Shalal, Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, and Jonathan Allen and Sinead Carew in New York, and Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Writing by Peter Graff, Brad Brooks and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Frank McGurty, Peter Cooney, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Tattersall