For the 11th straight day, thousands gathered in cities across the nation to protest racism and police brutality, sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis.
In Brooklyn, New York, a large crowd of protesters gathered outside a federal jail where a Black man with the same last name ― 35-year-old inmate Jamel Floyd ― died in custody on Wednesday after guards pepper-sprayed him in his cell. Demonstrators held signs that read “Don’t be shy! Defund the police!” and “Justice for Jamel.”
“Free them all,” they chanted as inmates could be heard cheering and banging on cell windows.
“He was supposed to be protected here,” an emotional Donna Mays, Jamel Floyd’s mother, said at the rally. “He got killed and murdered and Maced.”
He had recently been moved to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn after serving 13 years in prison, and he was slated to be released in three months, Mays said.
“I need change and I need it today,” she said. “I’m going to become an advocate and walk in these marches. This is important. I didn’t know that I had this support behind me.”
The protests have continued despite assaults from police, numerous arrests and a war-like presence of law enforcement and military. The ultimate goals ― such as defunding police forces or major criminal justice reform ― are still far away. But on Friday, there were signs that the protests are breaking through, though some gains were merely temporary.
In California on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called for new police standards, including legislation to ban holds that put pressure on the neck that can render subjects unconscious. Officials in multiple cities said they’ll adopt changes intended to reduce police use of force laid out by Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” campaign.
In Minneapolis, the City Council approved an agreement to ban police officers from using chokeholds. Louisville, Kentucky, temporarily halted the use of no-knock warrants, such as the one used when police burst in to Breonna Taylor’s home and shot her. And Seattle temporarily banned the use of tear gas on protesters.
The protests continued after an 8 p.m. curfew in New York City, which Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) left in effect until Monday despite heavy criticism that it was being used as an excuse to target and arrest largely peaceful demonstrators. On Thursday evening, New York City police arrested protesters en masse after the curfew, sometimes by force. Other cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, have lifted curfews imposed earlier in the week.
In Louisville, thousands of protesters gathered to honor Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 on Friday, chanting her name and carrying cards for her family. Protesters in Los Angeles, Washington and Atlanta also sang “Happy Birthday” in her honor.
Demonstrators nationwide have faced violence from the very police they’re protesting against.
In Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, police shoved an older man to the ground as he approached them, seriously injuring him. After two officers were suspended over the incident, the rest of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team resigned from the unit in a show of support for the two officers.
On Monday, law enforcement officers used tear gas to drive protesters out of Lafayette Square, across from the White House, providing a background track for a hard-line speech by Donald Trump and then an easy walk for the president and his entourage to stand in front of a nearby church for photographs.
And it’s not just protesters facing violence from the police.
On June 1, police in Los Angeles started to arrest Black store owners who had flagged them down for help as people looted their store.
Police have abused and arrested medics in Austin, Texas; New York City; and Asheville, North Carolina. The Geneva Convention, which states that even in times of war, medical personnel “shall be respected and protected in all circumstances.”
Police have also arrested journalists, including CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, who is Black, while he was broadcasting live in Minneapolis last week.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic still rages, as does its economic fallout ― both of which have hit Black communities particularly hard. And though Trump touted the generally positive job figures released Friday, the unemployment picture continued to deteriorate for Black people, especially Black women. And an autopsy this week noted that Floyd had survived COVID-19 weeks before he died at the hands of police.
As Americans demanded racial justice in American streets, Trump traveled to Maine on Friday, where he signed a proclamation to slash protections for a marine national monument off the Northeast coast ― one of many environmental rollbacks in recent weeks. At the event, he railed against those calling for defunding police departments and said Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) was “like a dictator” for moving slowly to reopen the state after its COVID-19 shutdown.
And the entire city of Washington, long denied statehood that would allow it to block such activity, has been occupied by federal forces. The Trump administration brought in military troops and deployed a slew of federal agents to crack down on the city’s demonstrations.
Late Friday, Trump attacked his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, by falsely claiming Biden supports defunding the police and retweeted a message from conservative commentator and conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck questioning whether George Floyd was being wrongly lauded. The president has always fanned the flames of white supremacy, and his response to the protests has ranged from dismissive to punitive, with some perfunctory sympathy for Floyd thrown in.
“This stuff would still be happening, but just the things he’s been saying in general is just making the whole situation worse ― he’s escalating it,” said Ashley Ezekieva, a 23-year-old protesting outside the White House on Thursday evening.
“‘Shut up and die’ is basically what we’re being told, and we’re tired of it,” she said. “I’m doing this today so the next generation doesn’t have to do it, because our parents and grandparents did it so we didn’t have to do it, but here we are today. There needs to be bigger change.”
There are indications the protests are having an effect. The Minneapolis school board voted this week to cut ties with the police department, a step that could reduce arrests of students and the school-to-prison pipeline. Portland, Oregon, is doing the same. Multiple states took down monuments to racists. And police have faced consequences for their actions: The officers involved in Floyd’s death were charged with crimes, as were six Atlanta police officers who violently pulled students from a car last weekend. Other officers, though, such as the ones who killed Breonna Taylor, remain free.
There’s another reason for hope: A majority of Americans support the protests and see Floyd’s death as a pattern in police treatment of Black men. The people on the streets have large swaths of the public on their side.