The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Huge, peaceful protests mark anti-racism demonstrations around the globe

Demonstrators gathered in cities across the country on June 6, to protest the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Demonstrators filled the streets in cities around the world Saturday, staging some of the largest and most peaceful protests against racism since a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, was killed on Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

People marched in Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Paris, Sydney and elsewhere, with turnout reaching the tens of thousands in some cities. Washington alone hosted a dozen different rallies. In Chicago there were at least five, and in New York City, protesters turned out to dozens of events in all five boroughs.

Even as demonstrators mourned Floyd and other African Americans killed by police in recent years, Floyd’s family held a public viewing of his body and a private memorial service in tiny Raeford, N.C., the state where he was born.

The daytime weekend protests were huge but almost entirely peaceful, but tensions were growing in several cities overnight with reports of flash bangs used in Seattle and a man driving a car into protesters in Brooklyn.

The protests during the day lacked the tension between police and protesters that ignited violent nighttime clashes after Floyd’s death and continued sporadically over the past 12 days.

Chicago police reported they made no arrests as an estimated 30,000 people thronged the streets there Saturday afternoon.

The marches attracted more children and families than the events of recent days. In Atlanta, a band played for people on the street. In Philadelphia, the mayor and police chief knelt in solidarity with demonstrators. Even Vidor, Tex., a small town known for a history of Ku Klux Klan rallies and excluding blacks after sundown, held a small rally.

Many marchers across the United States wore masks to protect others against the novel coronavirus, which continues to spread. Some experts have expressed concerns that the large, closely packed demonstrations could lead to new outbreaks of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus that has killed nearly 110,000 Americans.

The protests have also provided new fodder for the movement to end police brutality, as cellphone videos have emerged showing police using aggressive tactics against demonstrators.

On Saturday morning, two Buffalo police officers pleaded not guilty to assaulting a 75-year-old activist during one of the skirmishes Thursday. Aaron Torgal­ski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32, turned themselves in, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said at a news briefing Saturday, a day after a widely circulated video appeared to show them shoving protester Martin Gugino to the ground.

Torgalski and McCabe were suspended without pay after the video of the incident taken by WBFO, a local radio station, was posted. It shows Gugino being pushed to the ground by police Thursday evening at a protest honoring Floyd. Gugino fell backward and his head snapped against the pavement and began to bleed. He was hospitalized but was in stable condition Saturday.

All 57 members of the officers’ unit, the Emergency Response Team, resigned from that assignment to protest the suspension of Torgalski and McCabe.

At marches in London and Berlin, demonstrators emphasized that racism targeting blacks is not uniquely American. Maike Leifeld, a 28-year-old white German, came with her black partner, Abdoloulie Jarju, 39.

“We feel racism every day,” she said, their baby strapped to her chest. “I feel it in the politics, in the society and the family. People judge us.”

Jarju was hopeful. “When you see something happening in America, and thousands of people are on the streets in Berlin fighting for justice,” he said, “it feels like something might change.”

In Chicago, Jessica Cruz, 29, said she was attending her first march ever. “I want to be part of change,” she said. “I was raised to believe everyone is equal and I want the government to see that too.”

Cruz, who lives in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the South Side, said she brought her 4-year-old daughter, who is of mixed race. “I needed her to see that her life matters too,” she said.

In Washington, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) doubled down Saturday on her condemnations of federal police actions and an out-of-state National Guard presence in the District, declaring victory in a battle for control amid mass protests.

“Today, we pushed the army away from our city,” she told thousands gathered on the road in front of the White House, which she has renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Bowser continues to clash with President Trump over the local response to demonstrations against police brutality. Days after peaceful protesters were dispersed from an area in front of the White House using tear gas, the Pentagon told National Guard members deployed to the District not to use firearms or ammunition and has issued orders to send active-duty troops home.

“If you’re like me, on Monday you saw something you hoped to never see in the United States of America: federal police moving on American people protesting peacefully in front of the people’s house,” Bowser said Saturday.

Trump was relatively silent most of the day Saturday about the events unfolding outside the White House. Around 6:45 p.m., he tweeted, without elaboration, “LAW & ORDER!” Later in the evening, he added another tweet: “Much smaller crowd in D.C. than anticipated. National Guard, Secret Service, and D.C. Police have been doing a fantastic job. Thank you!”

In New York, several thousand demonstrators marched from Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza beginning at noon, walking through the borough and over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall in Manhattan, one of many demonstrations that lasted throughout the day and into the evening.

The crowd was racially diverse. Parents carried children on their shoulders, and blocks from the marches, sidewalks were filled with people walking to and from demonstrations with their signs. Police escorted marchers. There were no clashes by late afternoon.

Several hundred celebrants were in attendance at the Floyd memorial in Raeford, a town of 5,000 just over 20 miles from Floyd’s birthplace of Fayetteville. Worshipers sang along with a choir as a large photo of Floyd and a portrait of him adorned with an angel’s wings and halo sat at the front of the chapel.

In contrast to Thursday’s memorial in Minneapolis, where mourners demanded sweeping change for African Americans, Floyd’s family said it would make Saturday’s service a remembrance of his life and the things he loved.

Several family members participated in the service by leading solos and delivering sermonettes.

Among those who addressed mourners was Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, who used his remarks to strongly criticize some of his peers in law enforcement.

“We walk around with all this power, and there needs to be some house cleaning,” Peterkin said. “I didn’t say ‘spring cleaning.’ Spring cleaning means you dusting and spraying. You need to take out the trash!”

Applause erupted inside the service, which was live-streamed by several television outlets.

Floyd died May 25 in police custody after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Video of the death sparked the unrest that has followed. Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned a handcuffed Floyd to the street with his knee, has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other police officers involved have been charged with abetting murder and manslaughter.

Guarino reported from Chicago and Ruble reported from New York. Jessica Contrera, Candace Buckner and Hannah Knowles in Washington, and Loveday Morris in Berlin, contributed to this report.