Protesters staged large-scale demonstrations across the country on Sunday, expressing outrage at the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and, more broadly, anger at police brutality. Some cities, including Minneapolis, Atlanta and Seattle, saw clashes with police, buildings and cars set afire, and looting.
By evening, many demonstrations had given way to another night of violence and destruction, with protesters ignoring curfews imposed in dozens of cities. Police used tear gas and stun grenades and fired rubber bullets in attempts to disperse the crowds.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in police custody last Monday. Video shows a Minneapolis police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes shortly before his death.
Tensions were already simmering following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in February and Breonna Taylor in March.
Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was jogging through a Glynn County, Ga., neighborhood when he was shot dead. Three white men were arrested last month after state investigators took over the case from local authorities.
Protests also continued for a fourth straight night in Louisville, as activists call for justice for Taylor. Police shot and killed the 26-year-old black woman in her home.
Truck barrels into Minneapolis protesters
In Minneapolis, a semitrailer plowed through a crowd of protesters marching on an interstate highway near downtown that had been closed to traffic.
Authorities say no one was injured when the truck drove into the crowd at a high speed, westbound on Interstate Highway 35.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the driver may have been unaware of the highway closure. “It appears the semi was on I-35W as authorities were closing the road. It didn’t appear to drive through any barricades,” the department tweeted.
Some protesters jumped on top of the truck, and as it stopped, they dragged the driver out of the front seat and started beating him. The driver, identified by police as Bogdan Vechirko of Otsego, Minn., is being held on probable cause for assault. He was taken to a hospital and is being treated for his injuries.
“He was driving a gas tanker,” said Rhys Gailah, 39, who was in the middle of a sit-in listening to speakers when the truck came barreling through. “He came driving at least 50 miles per hour through the crowd. Everyone was sitting. It was peaceful.”
State Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington says authorities had shut down the freeway so the protesters, who numbered from 4,000 to 5,000, could safely demonstrate. Before the incident, the protest had appeared peaceful.
Tensions flare in the nation’s capital
Protests continued in Washington, D.C., with marches from a historically black university to a park just across from the White House.
The peaceful marchers had a city police escort as they walked the nearly 2 miles from Howard University to Lafayette Square.
Protesters chanted about the death of Floyd and other African Americans who have died following police violence.
“Even in the middle of a pandemic, cops are killing us,” read one sign carried by protester Elizabeth Betts.
“It’s crazy how even in the middle of a pandemic, black people have to protest like this,” she said. “We are at a point where it’s the same story, the same things are happening. I’m tired of this.”
The demonstration in Lafayette Park turned violent during the night, as protesters threw bottles at police, set fires to cars and to the basement of St. John’s Church. The historic church has been attended by every president since James Madison.
Police pushed the crowds away from the White House with bursts of tear gas.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser had established a citywide curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“Day of Reflection” declared in Louisville for Monday
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is calling for a Day of Reflection on Monday.
He plans to hold a late morning virtual gathering on Facebook with faith leaders after another night of demonstrations in the city over the death of Breonna Taylor.
Early Monday, police and National Guard reportedly shot and killed a man while trying to disperse a crowd outside of a food market in downtown Louisville, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Law enforcement officers earlier fired tear gas into a crowd assembled in the Jefferson Square area of the city, NPR member station WFPL reported.
At an evening press conference, Fischer again thanked those protesting peacefully but said others were “hijacking” their efforts.
Tomorrow, Monday, June 1, 2020 I am declaring a Day of Reflection in our city. We will have a virtual gathering at 11:30 a.m. Monday on Facebook with local faith leaders. We’ll be talking about the events of the last few days & acknowledging the pain we’ve all felt. 2/2— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) June 1, 2020
Atlanta officers terminated for excessive force
Two Atlanta police officers have been terminated and three others placed on desk duty after a video of the arrest of two young African Americans leaving the protests Saturday night went viral.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the officers’ firing on Sunday, saying the footage “was disturbing on many levels.”
“We understand our officers are working very long hours, under an enormous amount of stress,” Bottoms said. “But we also understand that the use of excessive force is never acceptable.”
Georgia Public Broadcasting reported that veteran officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter were terminated.
The footage from Streeter’s body camera shows the officers confronting the pair as they were leaving the downtown protests after the 9 p.m. curfew went into effect.
At roughly the 2:30 mark in the video, one of them is seen sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, recording officers arresting someone else. An officer opens the car door and asks the driver if he wants to go to jail.
Several minutes later, officers approach the car again. One uses a baton to smash the driver’s side window. Police then use a taser on the driver, who has been identified by local media as Messiah Young.
GPB said Young suffered an epileptic seizure, according to the Spelman College Student Government Association.
Footage posted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also shows the passenger pleading with police to stop as they also used a taser against her.
“They haven’t heard us”: Protests escalate in Southern California
Vandalism and violence broke out after peaceful protests in Santa Monica and other parts of Southern California on Sunday, following a sequence of events that has become familiar in many U.S. cities in the past week. The new round of destruction came despite a curfew and the presence of the National Guard.
“We tried kneeling,” protester Jesus Guzman, 19, told NPR’s Doualy Xaykaothao near the Santa Monica Pier. “We tried putting on those T-shirts that said I can’t breathe, we tried those hashtags, we tried doing it all peacefully, but they haven’t heard us, they haven’t done nothing.”
“The violence, for him, is justified,” Xaykaothao reported.
With store windows smashed, some shop owners in Santa Monica started cleaning up the mess overnight — the latest setback after weeks of forced closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reporter in Long Beach, Calif., shot in throat by rubber bullet
KPCC/LAist reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez was shot in the throat by a rubber bullet Sunday evening during protests in Long Beach, Calif. He believes the bullet was fired by Long Beach police, who had been firing the projectiles nearby.
“I just got hit by a rubber bullet near the bottom of my throat,” Guzman-Lopez said via Twitter, posting an image of his wound. “I had just interviewed a man with my phone at 3rd and Pine and a police officer aimed and shot me in the throat, I saw the bullet bounce onto the street.”
I just got hit by a rubber bullet near the bottom of my throat. I had just interviewed a man with my phone at 3rd and Pine and a police officer aimed and shot me in the throat, I saw the bullet bounce onto the street @LAist @kpcc OK, that’s one way to stop me, for a while pic.twitter.com/9C2u5KmscG— Adolfo Guzman-Lopez (@AGuzmanLopez) June 1, 2020
Guzman-Lopez was able to breathe and was checked out by doctors Sunday night. The reporter said he had just finished interviewing a man who had been kneeling in protest, when he was hit.
“I talked to him for about a minute and just as I was finishing talking to him — right after I said, ‘Thank you,’ I heard a pop and I felt something, you know, the bottom of my throat and I saw something bounced onto the ground, and then I ran,” he said. “As I was running, I did start to feel its sting, and then I put my fingers to my throat and there was blood on my fingers.”
A number of journalists have been hit with police projectiles during the protests, including MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, who was shot in the leg by a rubber bullet in Minneapolis, and a Louisville TV reporter who was shot with pepper balls.
NPR’s Gerry Holmes contributed to this report.