MINNEAPOLIS — Protesters in Philadelphia stood on the steps of an art museum and demanded cuts to the city’s police budget. A crowd gathered outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion stood silently to hear stories from victims of police abuse. At a huge rally in Washington, D.C., demonstrators filled the streets, and speakers cried out to ensure that a death like that of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer never happens again.
Demonstrations across America that began as spontaneous eruptions of outrage over police violence appeared to have cohered by Saturday into a national mass protest movement against systemic racism, marked more by organization and determination than by street fury.
Protesters vowed to keep up the momentum toward overhauling what they said was a broken law enforcement system plagued by racial injustice. Some took credit for changes that have already occurred in some cities.
In Minneapolis, which has been convulsed with protests for the past 12 days, city officials announced measures Friday that are meant to rein in aggressive police tactics, including a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds. And in Denver, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday to restrict the use by the police of rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters.
“I think we’re all just trying to keep the pressure on and make sure this issue stays at the forefront of the national discourse,” said Mary Levy, 50, a law professor at Temple University who was part of a throng of protesters outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday afternoon.
Many of the day’s gatherings appeared larger than previous rallies, especially the one in Washington. At one point, it felt as if the entire city had emptied into downtown as lines of protesters snaked their way through side streets while others converged in nearby parks, eclipsing the turnout at prior protests.
For all that, the black chain-link fences forming a perimeter around the White House grounds had been reinforced with concrete Jersey barriers, and security personnel from an alphabet of agencies, including the National Guard, stood by in a kaleidoscope of uniforms, braced for any trouble.
As the protests were getting underway Saturday, mourners at a memorial service in the tiny railroad town of Raeford, N.C., passed by the plush blue coffin of Floyd, whose body was dressed in a tan suit and a brown tie. He was born in Fayetteville, N.C., about 25 miles away, and dozens of his relatives, including a sister, live in the area.
Floyd’s coffin arrived at the viewing, held at a Free Will Baptist church called Cape Fear Conference B, in a black hearse as a large group of people outside chanted “Black power,” “George Floyd!” and “No justice, no peace.” Some wore T-shirts printed with “I Can’t Breathe,” and a few carried small posters.
At the service, the local sheriff received a standing ovation when he said of the nation’s police officers, “We are part of the problem.”
The sheriff, Hubert A. Peterkin of Hoke County, N.C., told mourners that law enforcement officers must recognize and eliminate racism within their ranks. Looking directly at Floyd’s relatives in the front rows of the church, Peterkin, who is Black, said ingrained racism had led to Floyd’s death.
“If there were four brothers that threw a police officer on the ground and one of them put his knee on that officer’s neck and killed him on a video,” he said, there would have been “a national manhunt — and they would have been charged with murder immediately.”
Floyd’s body was transported from Minneapolis, where another memorial service was held last week. After the memorial Saturday, it will be transported to Houston for a third memorial service and burial.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black American, died May 25 after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer. Video widely shared on social media showed Floyd crying out for his mother and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Many demonstrations now include 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, marking the length of time the police officer’s knee was pressed into Floyd’s neck.
Demonstrations were continuing in Minneapolis on Saturday, still large but considerably calmer and more organized than the week before, though no less passionate. Police officers hung back or did not appear at all at the rallies — a marked difference from the clashes between officers and protesters last weekend.
Outside Mayor Jacob Frey’s house, protesters shouted at him when he would not commit on the spot to abolishing the police department, local news outlets reported. They yelled “Go home, Jacob, go home!” and “Shame! Shame!” as he walked away from the crowd.
Hundreds of demonstrators stood in silence outside the governor’s mansion in neighboring St. Paul to hear relatives of a dozen men who had died in police custody share their experiences.
Rallies took place Saturday in small towns and suburbs, drawing hundreds of people to communities that in many cases had not yet held protests, as well as in major cities where marches with masked demonstrators toting Black Lives Matters signs have quickly become part of the daily fabric of pandemic life. The protests have also spread overseas to Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
So many protests sprang up across South Florida on Saturday that demonstrations filled the entire day. In the evening, hundreds of people embarked on a march along Biscayne Boulevard, the main thoroughfare in downtown Miami. The crowd was nearly equal parts Black, white, and Hispanic and ranged widely in age, with numerous families taking part. Police officers stayed in the background. At one march, students handed out Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
Groups of protesters in Los Angeles clustered in Plummer Park in the West Hollywood section, the scene of daily gatherings, and processions were held downtown, at the Cochran Avenue Baptist Church in the Miracle Mile neighborhood and all over the city.
Darlene Chan, a book publicist who lives near Fairfax Avenue, which saw huge crowds and unrest a week ago, calls this the new normal: “Random, unexpected protests popping up all the time.”
Thousands of people marched peacefully across the Golden Gate Bridge, briefly bringing traffic to a halt.
“This is the awakening of America,” said one of the marchers, Nate Payne, who was wearing a gold San Francisco 49ers jacket and holding a cardboard cutout of a kneeling Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback known for kneeling during the national anthem before games as a quiet protest against social injustice.
In New York City, thousands of people gathered near the northwest corner of Central Park for a demonstration called the March for Stolen Dreams and Looted Lives, and other events and marches in the city also drew sizable crowds.
Constance Malcolm, whose son Ramarley Graham was killed by a New York City police officer in his home in 2012, had to fight back tears before speaking into the megaphone.
“I’m tired of crying,” Malcolm said. “We need our voices to be heard. That’s happening now and we need to take advantage of it.”
She then had a simple directive: “Vote.”