Thousands of Americans gathered for a ninth consecutive evening of largely peaceful demonstrations against racism and police brutality despite heavy law enforcement and military presences in many US cities.
The protests combined angry calls for accountability following last month’s killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, with solemn moments of reflection and uplifting chants and songs.
The largely peaceful protests came a day after Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, broke with Donald Trump over the president’s threat to deploy the military to quash the protests. Mr Esper issued a public statement disagreeing with the president, whose comments triggered a public backlash.
A crowd in Washington broke out into a rendition of “Lean on Me”, as they sat on the ground and lifted their phones to simulate candlelight. Another group lay down along a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue repeating “I can’t breathe”, the last words uttered by Floyd before he died as a Minneapolis police officer stuck a knee to his neck.
Officials in a number of cities eased some of the curfews introduced in recent days after episodes of looting and vandalism. Jenny Durkan, the mayor of Seattle, cancelled the curfew entirely. London Breed, San Francisco mayor, said on Wednesday she would lift curfews beginning Thursday, saying the city “will continue to facilitate any and all peaceful demonstrations”.
Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington DC, pushed the start of the curfew to 11pm from after it was set at 7pm the previous two nights.
Earlier in the day, Ms Bowser had joined the protesters near the White House criticising the Trump administration for deploying an unwanted military presence in the capital. “I have not requested any military forces that the President has deployed in the District. That presence is not under my direction nor accountable to me, the Chief of Police, or the residents of the District of Columbia,” she wrote in a series of tweets.
In New York, there were a small number of skirmishes and police made about 90 arrests, down from the 280 people apprehended on Tuesday, according to CNN.
“We’re trying to have as soft a touch as possible, and hear people, see people,” Dermot Shea, the city’s police commissioner, told CNN. “Overall it’s gone incredibly well in New York City, we’ve had incredible crowds the last few days and by far, overwhelmingly, it’s people coming out, voicing their concern . . . vandalism, violence, it’s a small minority.”
In Richmond, Virginia, a demonstration against Floyd’s killing was cheered by news that Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of the state, was set to announce the removal of a statue honouring Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general in the Civil War.
There were clashes in Huntsville, Alabama, where police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in the city centre, according to local media. The crackdown triggered an angry reaction from Anthony Daniels, a Democratic state lawmaker. “Who called the State Troopers? I am so disappointed in our local and county leadership. This is not Bloody Sunday,” Mr Daniels wrote on his Facebook page, referring to the 1965 incident in Selma, Alabama when civil rights campaigners were attacked.