MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (AFP) — Thousands of National Guard troops patrolled major US cities on Sunday, after five consecutive nights of protests over racism and police brutality that boiled over into arson and looting, sending shock waves through the country.
US President Donald Trump blamed anarchists and far-left activists for the violence, threatening to officially designate one group, Antifa, as terrorists, while local leaders appealed to citizens to give a constructive outlet to their rage without destroying their communities.
Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, said her city was sharply limiting access to its central business district after violent protests. She reflected the exasperation of many officials and ordinary residents over the turn from peaceful protest to explosive violence.
She told CNN she was “hurt and angry at those who decided to try to hijack this moment and use it as an opportunity to wreak havoc, to loot and to destroy. You should be ashamed of yourselves. What you have done is to dishonor yourself, your family and our city.”
The shocking videotaped death Monday of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis ignited a nationwide wave of outrage over law enforcement’s repeated use of lethal force against unarmed African Americans.
From Seattle to New York, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding tougher murder charges and more arrests over the death of Floyd, who stopped breathing after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder; three other officers with him were fired, but for now face no charges.
Governor Tim Walz mobilized all of Minnesota’s National Guard troops — the state guard’s biggest mobilization ever — to help restore order. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to clear streets of curfew violators Saturday night in Minneapolis, and National Guard troops protected the state capitol in St. Paul.
Walz extended a curfew for a third night Sunday and praised police and guardsmen for holding down violence, saying, “They did so in a professional manner. They did so without a single loss of life and minimal property damage.”
“Congratulations to our National Guard for the great job they did immediately upon arriving in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last night,” Trump said in a tweet adding that they “should be used in other States before it is too late!”
The Department of Defense said that around 5,000 National Guard troops had been mobilized in 15 states, as well as the capital Washington, with another 2,000 on standby.
The widespread resort to uniformed National Guards units is rare, and it evoked disturbing memories of the rioting in US cities in 1967 and 1968 in a turbulent time of protest over racial and economic disparities.
Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta were among two dozen cities ordering people to stay indoors overnight but police and protesters still clashed in numerous cities.
In Washington, protesters faced off with secret service agents outside the White House for a second straight night as Trump faces the most serious civil unrest of his presidency, in the middle of the historic coronavirus pandemic.
Eleven Washington police officers were injured, a spokesman said Sunday, including one who suffered a fractured leg.
Multiple arrests were reported by US media in Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York, as rallies continued through the night. Officers in Los Angeles fired rubber bullets and swung batons during a testy standoff with demonstrators who set fire to a police car.
Trump blamed the extreme left for the violence, saying he planned to designate a group known as Antifa as a terrorist organization.
But Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that Trump, who has often urged police to use tough tactics, was not helping matters.
“We are beyond a tipping point in this country, and his rhetoric only enflames that,” she said on CBS. “And he should just sometimes stop talking.”
The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned the violence, but said on Sunday that US citizens had every right to demonstrate.
“Protesting such brutality is right and necessary,” he said in a late-night statement. “But burning down communities and needless destruction is not.”
Peaceful protests occurred too, including in Toronto as the movement spread beyond America’s borders.
Demonstrators nationwide chanted slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe,” which Floyd was heard saying repeatedly in his final moments, as he lay, handcuffed, on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
“We’re not turning the cheek anymore. Black lives matter,” said makeup artist Melissa Mock, who joined several thousand in a daytime protest in Miami.
Earlier, people congregated and chanted peacefully in Minneapolis, carrying brooms to help clean up damaged shops and streets.
Some placed flowers in front of the shop where Floyd was arrested on Monday.
There was looting in Miami, where a curfew was announced. Houston police made more than 130 arrests. The Denver mayor said people had been stopped while bringing “assault weapons, handguns (and) baseball bats” into the city. And Los Angeles expanded its curfew order as looting broke out.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said a video showing a police car forcing its way through protesters in Brooklyn was “upsetting,” but that he did not blame the officers, who faced “an extremely dangerous situation.”
But unlike other mayors, de Blasio declined to declare a curfew and said he opposed bringing in “outside military forces” to help local police.
“If you’re bringing outside military or police forces, you actually endanger the safety and security of New Yorkers, because they’re not trained to handle the realities of our streets and our communities,” he told reporters.