Thousands of protesters gathered in Washington, in other U.S. cities and around the globe Saturday, rallying against racism and police brutality nearly two weeks after an African American man died in police custody.
Demonstrations demanding racial justice and systemic policing reforms erupted in cities across America and have continued daily after George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes as Floyd gasped that he could not breathe. It was the latest of many deaths among black Americans while in police custody.
Shortly afterward, in protests in cities around the globe, people of all ages and races chanted in solidarity, “I can’t breathe,” which were among Floyd’s last words.
In the U.S. capital, peaceful protesters marched on a hot and humid afternoon in many neighborhoods, as well as at the U.S. Capitol and along the National Mall.
Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke in the late afternoon to a large crowd at the newly designated Black Lives Matter Plaza, just north of Lafayette Park and the White House. Bowser on Friday had local artists paint “Black Lives Matter” in large yellow letters over several blocks of 16th Street Northwest.
“It’s so wonderful to see everyone peacefully protesting, wearing their masks,” the mayor told the crowd, according to The Hill. She also urged the crowd to be loud in demanding “more justice and more peace,” The Hill reported.
“I have a 2-year-old girl. I want her to grow up in a country where she’s not scared to go to the grocery store, not scared to go to work,” Bowser, who is African American, said, according to The Hill.
On Thursday, Bowser sent a letter to President Donald Trump, requesting he remove additional law enforcement and out-of-city National Guard from Washington. Large numbers of D.C. National Guard members, Drug Enforcement Administration agents and city police were stationed throughout the city Saturday.
Tens of thousands of people turned out in Washington on Saturday. Local police had said Friday they anticipated larger crowds than previous daily demonstrations.
On Monday, the U.S. Park Police used tear gas and shields to move peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Park and away from the historic St. John’s Church, near the White House, after which Trump walked to the church where he posed for photos holding a Bible.
In the past several days, more than a mile of nearly 2.5-meter-tall, chain-link fencing has been erected around the White House, Lafayette Park, the Treasury Department and Ellipse, limiting access to much of the grounds.
One white male protester from D.C., who said he had attended two previous daily protests, told VOA he thought the fencing actually helped the protests remain peaceful.
“The biggest thing is once the barrier between the cops and the protesters went up, everything became a lot more peaceful, because the cops weren’t threatened, so they didn’t feel the need to shoot tear gas,” he said.
One black male protester said he had come to the protest Saturday as a show of support, not only for his children and future grandchildren, but also for those who came before him. But he said he felt the looting that had occurred during protests in several cities was “wrong … because it’s a crime that is inflicting more pain onto ourselves.”
He said he hopes the peaceful protests continue, but that some protests “definitely do get rowdy, but sometimes you need to do something different to get your voice heard.”
Large protests were also held around the country, including Minneapolis, Miami, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia and Denver. And for most cities, many of which had seen violence and some looting earlier in the week, Saturday’s events were peaceful.
Roderick Sweeney, 49, who is black, told the Associated Press he was overwhelmed to see the large turnout of white protesters waving signs that said “Black Lives Matter” as hundreds marched back and forth across San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.
“We’ve had discussions in our family and among friends that nothing is going to change until our white brothers and sisters voice their opinion," he told the AP. The large turnout of white protesters "is sending a powerful message. You can see protests are happening around this world and so I’m hoping change will happen.”
In Chicago, CNN showed at least 5,000 peaceful protesters marching to the city’s historic Cabrini Green public housing project and listening to speakers.
Several cities, including Washington, which had imposed harsh curfews, were easing them by Saturday.
In Atlanta, which had more than 20 protests scheduled, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the city was lifting its 8 p.m. curfew Saturday after Atlanta saw no arrests related to the protests Friday.
Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city, had seen previous protests dissolve into arson and looting.
The first of several memorials for Floyd, 46, was held in Minneapolis on Thursday.
On Saturday, several hundred mourners gathered at a small church in the town of Raeford, North Carolina, for a private memorial service for Floyd. Raeford is about 34 kilometers from Floyd’s hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina.
According to AP, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, who is African American, told mourners that police officers around the country must be able to admit to themselves, “I am part of the problem.”
“We as law enforcement officers don’t have the authority to bully, push people around and kill them just because we have a badge and a gun,” Peterkin said as the congregation cheered, according to AP.
Another memorial is planned for Monday in Houston, where Floyd lived for many years.
Driven by a strong social media campaign, as well as cases of racial injustice and police brutality in other countries, protests spread overseas, to such cities as London, Berlin, Sydney and Pretoria.
Protests in London turned violent Saturday after protesters clashed with mounted police.
The protest had started peacefully, but near the 10 Downing Street home of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a small number of protesters allegedly threw bottles at police, which led the mounted officers to push back protesters. One mounted officer was injured when she fell off her horse, the French news agency reported.
More than 2,000 people gathered in Marseilles, France, for a peaceful protest, but it turned into skirmishes between the demonstrators and police, who fired tear gas and pepper spray.
VOA’s Carolyn Presutti contributed to this article.