WASHINGTON – Police around the U.S. took a less aggressive stance and even sometimes joined protesters demanding a reckoning with institutional racism, as leaders in the city at the center of the latest call for police reforms pushed Sunday to dismantle its department.
Two weeks after George Floyd, a black unemployed bouncer, died in Minneapolis after a white officer pressed a knee on his neck for several minutes, a majority of the City Council vowed to dismantle the 800-member agency.
“It is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe,” said Lisa Bender, the council president. “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period.”
It's not the first time an American city has wrestled with how to deal with a police department accused of being overly aggressive or having bias in its ranks. In Ferguson, Missouri — where a white officer in 2014 fatally shot Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old — then-Attorney General Eric Holder said federal authorities were considering dismantling that police department. The city eventually reached an agreement short of that but one that required massive reforms.
The state of Minnesota has launched a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department, and the first concrete changes came when the city agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints.
On Sunday, nine of the City Council’s 12 members vowed to end policing as the city currently knows it.
￼Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told protesters outside his house that he doesn’t support the “full abolition” of the police department. Protesters shouted back: “Shame! Shame!” and said they would remember that during next year's mayoral election.
Protesters nationwide are calling for police reforms in response to Floyd’s death, and calls to “defund the police” have become rallying cries for many. A heavy-handed response to demonstrations in many places has underscored what critics have maintained: Law enforcement is militarized and too often uses excessive force.
Cities imposed curfews as several protests last week were marred by spasms of arson, assaults and smash-and-grab raids on businesses. More than 10,000 people have been arrested around the country since protests began, according to reports tracked by The Associated Press. Videos have surfaced of officers in riot gear using tear gas or physical force against even peaceful demonstrators.
But U.S. protests in recent days have been overwhelmingly peaceful — and over the weekend, several police departments appeared to retreat from aggressive tactics.
Several cities have also lifted curfews, including Chicago and New York City, where the governor urged protesters to get tested for the virus and to proceed with caution until they had. Leaders around the country have expressed concern that demonstrations could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases.
“Last night was the best by far,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We had the biggest number of protesters, the fewest arrests, the fewest problems and that convinced me it was time for the curfew to go away.”
De Blasio said police had arrested just four people on Saturday — in stark contrast to more than 2,000 arrests made through Friday morning.
For the first time since protests began in New York more than a week ago, most officers were not wearing riot helmets as they watched over rallies. Police moved the barricades at the Trump hotel at Columbus Circle for protesters so they could pass through.
Officers in some places in the city appeared less on edge, with a few casually smoking cigars or eating ice cream and pizza. Some officers shook hands and posed for photos with motorcyclists at one rally.
In Compton, California, several thousand protesters, some on horseback, peacefully demonstrated Sunday through the city, just south of Los Angeles. The only law enforcement presence was about a dozen sheriff’s deputies, who watched without engaging.
A similar scene played out on Saturday when thousands of protesters converged on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Tow trucks held off car traffic, and police directed vehicles caught in the middle to go around protesters.
In Washington, D.C., National Guard troops from South Carolina were seen checking out of their hotel Sunday shortly before President Donald Trump tweeted he was giving the order to withdraw them from the nation’s capital.
At the newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, protesters posed with the street sign and the yellow block lettering painted on the pavement by the city. As ice cream truck jingles mixed with protest chats, the district’s Metropolitan Police Department patrolled.
Things weren't as peaceful in Seattle, where the mayor and police chief had said they were trying to deescalate tensions. Police used flash bang devices and pepper spray to disperse protesters after rocks, bottles and explosives were thrown at officers Saturday night.
Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez wrote on Twitter on Saturday night that she was “outraged” by that response.
Dual crises — the coronavirus pandemic and the protests — have weighed particularly heavily on the black community, which has been disproportionately affected by the virus, and also exposed deep political fissures in the U.S. during this presidential election year.
Trump's leadership during both has been called into question by Democrats and a few Republicans who viewed his response to COVID-19 as too little, too late, and his reaction to protests as heavy handed and insensitive.
On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney marched in a protest in Washington against police mistreatment of minorities in the nation’s capitol, making him the first known Republican senator to do so.
“We need a voice against racism, we need many voices against racism and against brutality,” Romney, who represents Utah, told NBC News.
On Sunday, Floyd's body arrived in Texas for a third and final memorial service, said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. A viewing is planned for Monday in Houston, followed by a service and burial Tuesday in suburban Pearland.
The 46-year-old man's death at the hands of police has drawn new attention to the treatment of African Americans by law enforcement — in the United States and around the world.
At Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR paused before Sunday's Cup race to acknowledge the nationwide protests, in a remarkable moment for the sport with its roots in the South and one-time embrace of Confederate symbols.
During warm-up laps, the 40 cars pulled to a stop in front of the empty grandstands, and NASCAR President Steve Phelps told them: "Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
Protesters in Bristol, England, tore down a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader, and pushed it into the harbor of the port city in southwestern England.
A crowd estimated at 10,000, many in face masks, filled a square in Brussels, holding white roses and signs decrying racism. And outside the new U.S. Embassy in London, student Darcy Bourne said the demonstration was about “more than just George Floyd, more than just America, but racism all around the world.”
Seiner reported from New York, Kruesi from Nashville, Tennessee, Pane from Boise, Idaho. Associated Press writers around the world contributed.