Thousands march in NYC as curfew ends and peace prevails

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Protesters rally near the edge of Times Square in New York, Sunday, June 7, 2020. New York City lifted the curfew spurred by protests against the death of George Floyd and police brutality ahead of schedule Sunday after a peaceful night, free of the clashes or ransacking of stores that rocked the city days earlier. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK – Thousands of people marched through New York City's streets again Sunday to protest racism and police brutality, but after a peaceful weekend the city appeared ready to begin a march back toward normalcy after three months of quarantines and nearly two weeks of civil unrest.

Mayor Bill de Blasio lifted the city’s 8 p.m. curfew ahead of schedule after several days free of the clashes or ransacking of stores that rocked the city days earlier.

Some of the marches Sunday took on a celebratory feel and tensions between demonstrators and police were noticeably eased.

As hundred of protesters stood chanting in front of police officers outside Brooklyn's Barclays Center as night fell, officers looked on, standing relaxed and without riot helmets that were standard-issue earlier in the week.

Some officers a few blocks away were even smoking cigars. Others posed for photos with vest-wearing bikers. At one point, police moved barricades so protesters could approach the Trump International Hotel and Tower in midtown Manhattan.

“I want to thank everybody who has expressed their views peacefully," de Blasio said Sunday morning. “I made the decision to end the curfew. And honestly, I hope it’s the last time we will ever need a curfew in New York City.”

The curfew, New York's first in decades, had been set to remain in effect through early Monday morning, with officials planning to lift it at the same time the city enters the first phase of reopening after nearly three months of shutdowns because of the coronavirus.

The move to end it early followed New York City police pulling back on enforcing the curfew Saturday as thousands took to the streets for another day of marches and rallies sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Catherine Corien, a 60-year-old dental hygienist in Brooklyn, held off attending protests all week because she was afraid of catching the virus, but she stood near the back of a protest in Bed-Stuy on Sunday wearing a mask and keeping some distance from other protesters.

“I’m very concerned, but at the same time, a lot of people, if they are like me and decided to stay home, nothing would have happened,” she said.

Brandon Watts, a black pastor at Epiphany Church in Brooklyn, mandated that participants wear a mask at a “Pray & Protest” march he organized Sunday with several other churches. Attendees were offered free coronavirus testing at one of the participating churches.

“COVID-19 hit the inner city harder than anybody else,” Watts said. “And so we have to be very careful. We’re the only ones in a pandemic within a pandemic.”

De Blasio said police had arrested just four people and issued 24 court summonses during Saturday's protest. There were more than 2,000 arrests made through Friday morning, with the largest number coming on Sunday and Monday, when hundreds were arrested as the police tried to control crime in Manhattan’s shopping districts.

Local politicians and civil liberties advocates had called for an end to the 8 p.m. curfew, complaining that it causes needless friction when officers try to enforce it. But de Blasio had initially insisted the curfew would remain in place throughout the weekend.

Civil liberties organizations had threatened to sue if the curfew was extended beyond Sunday.

The end of the curfew comes as New York City prepares to begin reopening some businesses Monday, including manufacturing and construction companies, wholesalers and retailers.

Between 200,000 and 400,000 people are expected to head back to the workplace Monday in the city.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated his call for people who have attended the protest marches to get tested for the coronavirus.

”Get a test. Get a test,” the governor said Sunday, adding that the state planned on opening 15 testing sites dedicated just to protesters so they can get results quickly. “I would act as if you were exposed, and I would tell people you are interacting with, assume I am positive for the virus.”