New criminal charges were filed Wednesday in the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died last week while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison charged Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck even as Floyd said he could not breathe, with second-degree murder, a stiffer charge than the third-degree-murder charge he previously faced along with second-degree manslaughter.
In addition, Ellison charged three other former officers who were at the scene and did not intervene in the incident on May 25 — Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. All four officers were fired in the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, but only Chauvin was charged with criminal conduct in the case.
Floyd’s death has spawned more than a week of protests throughout the United States, many of them largely peaceful, as was the case Tuesday night and during the day on Wednesday.
But some protests quickly devolved into raging clashes between authorities and demonstrators, with police cars and government buildings set afire and looters ransacking stores.
The civil unrest has perhaps been the most widespread in the U.S. in decades. The Associated Press reported more than 9,000 arrests have been made throughout the country over the past eight days.
'We are demanding justice'
Before the charges were filed Wednesday, Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said, "We are demanding justice. We expect all of the police officers to be arrested before we have the memorial here in Minneapolis, Minnesota" on Thursday.
Third-degree murder is defined as killing someone unintentionally and not done as part of the commitment of another felony.
Second-degree murder is generally defined as an intentional killing that lacks premeditation. Someone convicted of second-degree murder is believed to have demonstrated an extreme indifference for human life. All murder convictions in the U.S. can, but don’t always, result in sentences of decades in prison.
A heavy police presence on the streets of big U.S. cities and curfews imposed by their mayors curbed most of the violence Tuesday night and into Wednesday.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "Last night we took a step forward in moving out of this difficult period we've had the last few days and moving to a better time.”
He said New York police arrested about 280 people on protest-related charges Tuesday night, compared with 700 a day earlier.
The death of Floyd and subsequent protests have drawn worldwide attention, with numerous demonstrations in other countries supporting the American protesters angered by Floyd’s death and the sense that police often treat black people more harshly than whites.
Pope Francis called for national reconciliation and peace, saying he had ''witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest'' in the U.S.
"My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,” the pope said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has mixed support for peaceful protests with calls for a tough response against rowdy demonstrators.
He said that "lowlifes and losers" took over the streets of his hometown of New York earlier in the week and again tweeted Wednesday: "LAW & ORDER!"
Local police in numerous cities have been augmented by the call-up of more than 20,000 National Guard troops in 29 states to deal with the violence.
In Philadelphia, a statue of a former police chief and mayor, Frank Rizzo, was taken down early Wednesday after vandals repeatedly attacked it. Rizzo was widely accused of racism and brutality in the 1970s.
New York protest
On Tuesday night, peaceful protesters defied nighttime curfew orders in some areas, including New York City, where hundreds of people remained on the Brooklyn Bridge for several hours after marching from the Brooklyn side to find their path into Manhattan blocked by police.
In Atlanta, police fired tear gas to break up a crowd of hundreds who remained after the start of the city’s 9 p.m. curfew. Officers were seen detaining people in both cities.
Hundreds of people remained past curfew time in Washington’s Lafayette Square park across from the White House, where the scene was much quieter than Monday evening when officers aggressively fired tear gas and rubber bullets at largely peaceful protesters to clear the way for Trump to make a photo-op appearance in front of nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church.
The protesters who gathered in the park Tuesday chanted slogans of “Black lives matter,” “Don’t shoot” and “Enough is enough.”
They stared at tall black metal fencing that was put in place to bolster security in the area. A few kilometers away, National Guard troops stood fanned out across the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a popular tourist site where in 1963, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.