Tens of thousands of protesters streamed into the nation’s capital and other major cities Saturday in another huge mobilization against police brutality while George Floyd was remembered in his North Carolina hometown by mourners who waited hours for a glimpse of his golden coffin.
Military vehicles and officers in fatigues closed off much of downtown Washington to traffic ahead of the planned march, which authorities estimated would attract up to 200,000 people. Large protests also took place across the U.S. and overseas, including in London, Paris, Berlin, and Sydney, collectively producing perhaps the largest one-day mobilization since Floyd’s death 12 days ago at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
The dozens of demonstrations capped a week of nearly constant protests that swelled beyond anything else the nation has seen in at least a generation. After frequent episodes of violence in the early stages following Mr. Floyd’s death, the crowds in the U.S. shifted to a calmer tenor in recent days.
In Philadelphia and Chicago, marchers chanted, carried signs, and occasionally knelt silently. Both protests unfolded peacefully.
On a hot, humid day in Washington, throngs of protesters gathered at the Capitol, on the National Mall, and in residential neighborhoods. Many groups headed toward the White House, which has been fortified with new fencing and extra security measures.
The crowd erupted in applause as Mayor Muriel Bowser walked along the portion of 16th Street that she renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Art Lindy, a fifth-generation Washingtonian, shouted “Vice President Bowser” as the mayor strolled by. He was referring to her defiant response to President Donald Trump’s taunts.
Mayor Bowser “has done an incredible job standing up to the face of federal power,” the 56-year-old construction manager said.
Washington has seen daily protests for the past week – largely peaceful. The faint sound of protesters could be heard Saturday from the executive mansion. Mr. Trump had no public events on his daily schedule.
The demonstrations extended to his golf resort in Doral, Florida, just outside Miami, where about 100 protesters gathered. The effort was organized by Latinos for Black Lives Matter.
In Raeford, North Carolina, a small town near Mr. Floyd’s birthplace of Fayetteville, a long line of people formed outside a Free Will Baptist church, waiting to enter in small groups. At a private memorial service later in the day, mourners sang along with a choir. On display at the front of the chapel was a large photo of Mr. Floyd and a portrait of him adorned with an angel’s wings and halo.
The line of people waiting to view the coffin included families with young children and teenagers. One young woman wore a green and gold graduation cap and gown as she walked beside her parents. Most people wore surgical masks or cloth face coverings.
When a hearse bearing Mr. Floyd’s coffin arrived, chants of “Black Power,” “George Floyd,” and “No justice, no peace,” echoed from beneath the covered entrance.
“It could have been me. It could have been my brother, my father, any of my friends who are black,” said Erik Carlos of Fayetteville. “It was a heavy hit, especially knowing that George Floyd was born near my hometown. It made me feel very vulnerable at first.”
Protesters and their supporters in public office say they are determined to turn the extraordinary outpouring of anger and grief into change, notably in regard to policing policies.
One of the Washington protesters, Pamela Reynolds, said she was seeking greater accountability for police.
“The laws are protecting them so I need to see to change with the laws and then that way they can actually get convicted because a charge is not a conviction,” said the 37-year-old African American teacher.
Among the changes she’s seeking is a federal ban on police chokeholds and a requirement for police to wear body cameras.
Theresa Bland, 68, a retired teacher and real estate agent protesting at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, had a broader agenda in mind.
“I’m looking at affordable housing, political justice, prison reform, the whole ball of wax,” she said. “The world is so askew right now ... with people dying from the virus and people dying in prisons and people dying because there’s not enough food.”
Some tangible steps have already been taken.
In Minneapolis, city officials have agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints by police and to require officers to try to stop any other officers they see using improper force. California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state’s police-training program to stop teaching officers how to use a neck hold that blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
Democrats in Congress are preparing a sweeping package of police reforms, which are expected to included changes to police-accountability laws, such as revising immunity provisions and creating a database of police use-of-force incidents. Revamped training requirements are planned, too, among them a ban on chokeholds.
The House is expected to vote by month’s end. With Democrats in the majority, the bills will almost certainly pass. The outcome in the Senate is less certain. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the chamber would look at the issues, but he has not endorsed any particular legislation.
Meanwhile in New York, two Buffalo police officers were charged with assault Saturday after a video showed them shoving a 75-year-old protester, who fell backwards onto the pavement and was hospitalized. Both pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault and were released without bail. The two were suspended without pay Friday after a TV crew captured the confrontation.
In London, thousands of demonstrators endured cold rain to gather in Parliament Square, a traditional venue for protests. They knelt in silence and chanted Mr. Floyd’s name before applauding his memory and then starting a march. Some clashes between protesters and police broke out near the offices of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In Paris, hundreds of people gathered at the Place de la Concorde in defiance of a police ban on large protests. Members of the multiracial crowd chanted the name of Adama Traore, a black man whose death while in police custody a few years ago has been likened by critics of French police to Mr. Floyd’s death in Minnesota.
Police in the French port city of Marseille fired tear gas and pepper spray in skirmishes with protesters who hurled bottles and rocks.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. Mr. Crary reported from New York and Mr. Foreman from Raeford, North Carolina. Associated Press reporters from around the world and the U.S. contributed to this report.