A crowd gathers in Boston, Massachusetts, to protest the recent killing of George Floyd.

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Outrage Over George Floyd’s Death Sparks Protests Nationwide

Protests spread across the United States after another Black American is killed in police custody

screengrab via Twitter

The following story was updated on June 5, 2020.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters are taking to the streets nationwide—and around the world—demanding an end to the long history of police brutality against Black people in the United States.

The protests are in response to the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 after being pinned to the ground by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The officer had pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, even as Floyd repeatedly said that he couldn’t breathe.

Police officers had arrested Floyd after a worker at a convenience store accused him of using a fake $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes. Bystanders filmed the arrest on their phones and posted the footage on social media.

The videos sparked outrage worldwide and came amid widespread fury over recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of police.

In more than 140 cities across the U.S., people are taking to the streets to voice their anger, sadness, and frustration—and to call for an end to racial bias and the killing of Black Americans by law enforcement.

Mike Stewart/AP Images

Some young demonstrators in Atlanta, Georgia, are overcome with emotion.

A Historic Movement

In the past week, unrest over bias and brutality in law enforcement has grown to historic levels. Across the country, people of all races and backgrounds have carried signs and chanted “Black Lives Matter.”

College student Kayla JuNaye Johnson, 21, participated in the protests in Minneapolis. “[Floyd’s death] changed my life forever,” she said. “I would always . . . support protests but never took full action like I did yesterday. I stood on the front line shouting, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ Now I finally know how us African Americans felt during the civil rights movement. I am a part of history.”

Confrontations and Chaos

Most of the protests have been peaceful. In some cities, police officers displayed solidarity with their communities. In Petersburg, Virginia, for example, Chief Kenneth Miller and a handful of officers joined the protesters.

But some demonstrations have resulted in confrontations with law enforcement. Videos have shown police officers using batons, tear gas, and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders, and journalists—sometimes unprovoked and without warning.

Violence has also erupted in some places, particularly after dark. Some people have started fires, while others have broken into stores and stolen goods.  

Such actions have been widely condemned by bystanders and protesters alike, including by Floyd’s brother, Terrence Floyd. “If I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are y’all doing?” he asked. “That’s not going to bring my brother back at all.”

An Anxious Nation

The four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest have been fired. Derek Chauvin, the officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers have been charged with lesser offences: aiding and abetting murder.

The upheaval comes at a time when many Americans are already filled with anger and anxiety. Emotions have been raw for months, as the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 100,000 Americans and caused millions to lose their jobs.

The pandemic has also highlighted longstanding inequalities between white Americans and Americans of color. Research shows that people of color are getting sick from and dying of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, at the highest rates. That’s partly because many Black people work in the service sector, including food service and health care. Such jobs have been considered essential during the pandemic. That means the people in those jobs were told it was necessary for them to keep working even when most Americans were advised to stay home to avoid getting sick. Many of those workers couldn’t afford to lose their paychecks, so they had no choice but to report to work even though it put their health at risk.

“They’re restless,” Minnesota’s attorney general, Keith Ellison, says of the people protesting. “Some of them have been unemployed, some of them don’t have rent money, and they’re angry, they’re frustrated.”

Officials Respond

Since the demonstrations began, U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a hard line against the protesters. He has repeatedly threatened to call in the American military to disband the demonstrations. On June 1, his administration even used military police to clear peaceful protesters who had gathered across from the White House in Washington, D.C.

The right to peaceful protest is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and has long been a key part of our nation’s history. As such, Trump’s words and actions have been widely condemned, including by many current and former government and military officials as well as private citizens. Meanwhile, politicians of both major political parties have expressed support for the protests and have encouraged Americans to stand up to racism.

At the same time, some public health experts have voiced concern that the recent protests, which have brought hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes and onto the streets, could lead to a new surge in Covid-19 cases. Officials have been urging protesters to get tested.

Still, despite the risks of contracting the disease, hundreds of thousands of people across the country and worldwide continue to gather in protest and to call for an end to racism.

“I am heartbroken and outraged every day,” says Candice Elder, who was marching in Oakland, California. “I’m tired of being sick and tired.”

With reporting by The New York Times

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