Members of California National Guard patrol, May 31, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Members of California National Guard patrol, May 31, 2020, in Los Angeles.

U.S. President Donald Trump lambasted the nation’s governors as “weak” on Monday, demanding they crack down on protesters and arrest them after six nights of chaotic demonstrations in dozens of American cities in the wake of the death of a black man in police custody in Minneapolis.

The U.S. leader told the governors in a video conference that they “have to get much tougher” with demonstrators after watching as Sunday night protests that often started peacefully devolved into clashes with police and other authorities clad in riot gear.  

Police in several cities fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters to disperse them, even as some demonstrators torched police cars and also ransacked and looted stores.

“Most of you are weak,” Trump told the governors. “You've got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you'll never see this stuff again.”

Demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington.

One of the protests unfolded just across the street from the White House in Washington where Trump has his residence.  

But protester clashes with police unfolded from coast to coast, perhaps the country’s most widespread uprising since the extended unrest spawned by opposition to the Vietnam war in the 1960s.

The protests stemmed from anger over the death a week ago of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, who was pinned face down on a Minneapolis street by a white policeman, Derek Chauvin, who held a knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes even as Floyd said he could not breathe. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the case. 

WATCH: Washington DC protesters explain why they are in the streets 

Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Detroit and Philadelphia are among the nearly 40 cities that imposed orders banning marchers from the streets after dark. The governors of Texas and Virginia imposed states of emergency.   

Similar events played out in many cities where peaceful protests by thousands of people later turned into unrest, as police holding shields and batons sought to push back lines of demonstrators, launching tear gas into crowds, while some people set fires and smashed storefronts.   

There were also reports in many cities of police injuring journalists who were covering the protests.

Officers in Washington used tear gas and stun grenades to clear a crowd of more than 1,000 people from Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House.  The crowd had marched from Howard University and focused their anger on police, shouting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”  

WATCH: Kane Farabaugh's report on protests

Washington DC announces curfew

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered an overnight curfew Sunday night into Monday morning, while authorities activated National Guard troops in the capital city as well as in at least 15 states to assist police.  

National Guard troops also worked with police in Atlanta to enforce an overnight curfew in the southern city.  Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms earlier Sunday fired two police officers and put three others on desk duty until accusations of excessive use of force Saturday night could be reviewed.  

There was no curfew in New York City, where during the day police kept a distance from protesters but at night there were instances of officers charging into crowds to clear areas and make arrests, as well as protesters throwing objects at police.  

Demonstrations in the northwestern city of Portland, Oregon also remained largely peaceful into the night at which time police reported projectiles were thrown at officers and authorities used tear gas to disperse crowds.

Systemic racism

The marchers say they are protesting not just harsh police treatment of black men and women, but also systemic racism in the United States.   

Chauvin, the officer who held down Floyd, and three other officers who were present and did not intervene, were fired last Tuesday. Chauvin is scheduled to appear in court Monday afternoon in Minneapolis.

"We are pursuing justice, we are pursuing it relentlessly," Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said.   

Protesters have been joined by statements of support from a variety of entities, from corporations to professional sports teams.

“We will no longer tolerate the assassination of people of color in this country,” said the players from the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association.  “We will no longer accept the abuse of power from law enforcement.  We will no longer accept ineffective government leaders who are tone-deaf, lack compassion or respect for communities of color.  We will no longer shut up and dribble.”

Facebook announced a $10 million pledge for unspecified “efforts committed to ending racial injustice.”

Attorney General William Barr crosses Pennsylvania Avenue NW from the Department of Justice building, May 30, 2020, in Washington.

Attorney General William Barr called for calm in a statement Sunday.   

“The continued violence and destruction of property endangers the lives and livelihoods of others, and interferes with the rights of peaceful protestors, as well as all other citizens,” he said.   

“It also undercuts the urgent work that needs to be done – through constructive engagement between affected communities and law enforcement leaders – to address legitimate grievances.  Preventing reconciliation and driving us apart is the goal of these radical groups, and we cannot let them succeed.”   

Trump has blamed most of the violence during protests on “Antifa and other radical left-wing groups,” and offered federal military assistance to Minnesota.  

Trump taken to underground bunker

Media reports say that out of an abundance of caution Trump was taken for a brief period on Friday night by the Secret Service to a White House underground bunker.

“The White House does not comment on security protocols and decisions,” a White House spokesman, Judd Deere, told VOA when asked about the reports.   

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden bows his head in prayer during a visit to Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., June 1, 2020.

Biden visits protest site

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee against Trump in the November election, visited the site of one of the protests Sunday and spoke with African Americans in Wilmington, in his home state of Delaware. He asked the protesters not to turn to violence.     

  “We are a nation in pain right now, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. As President, I will help lead this conversation,” Biden tweeted.   

 He also criticized the violence in a separate emailed statement, saying: “Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not."    

At least 4,400 people have been arrested across the country during the past two days, according to an Associated Press tally.  

A man walks on Lake Street while looking at businesses destroyed during riots and protests over the death of George Floyd, May 31, 2020, in Minneapolis.

Numerous Minneapolis businesses suffered extensive property damage Friday as protesters randomly looted stores in a neighborhood near the site where Floyd died.  Somali-American business owner Ahmed Siyad Shafi’i told VOA that vandals attacked all his of his stores overnight.     

  “They broke the glass, the doors, the windows,” he said via Skype, “and take whatever they can take.”  Shafi’i, the owner of a restaurant and clothing store in South Minneapolis, called it “unacceptable” for anyone to destroy personal property and suggested peaceful protests.