Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday for its largest demonstration yet over George Floyd’s death in police custody, a capstone on a defining week for a city — and nation — that has grappled with widespread outrage over racial injustice, police brutality and the politics accompanying them.
Demonstrators from about a dozen separate protests marched along normally bustling thoroughfares toward the White House through a large swath of downtown cordoned off by police, in what was expected to be D.C.’s largest assembled crowd since the Women’s March against President Donald Trump in 2017.
Officials expected the city to swell with approximately 100,000 to 200,000 protesters, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said at a news conference Friday. Protests began early Saturday afternoon near the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln Memorial before coming together near the White House.
Large protests also took place across the U.S. and in major cities overseas, including London, Paris, Berlin and Sydney, Australia, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, George Floyd was remembered in his small hometown of Raeford, North Carolina, where hundreds of mourners lined up to pay their respects to the African-American man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer 12 days ago.
As largely peaceful demonstrations over Floyd’s death continue in the capital, President Donald Trump has called for a forceful show of strength including the deployment of military forces to quell protests seen by many activists to be an inflection point for race relations in the country.
Trump was condemned by political leaders from both sides of the aisle after tear gas and rubber bullets were used to remove protesters near the White House perimeter in Lafayette Square on Monday for a presidential photo-op in front of St. John’s Church.
Former Secretary of Defense Mattis publicly panned the Trump administration’s response to the demonstrations in a statement on Wednesday, saying he was “angry and appalled” with the president’s actions.
“We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose,” he wrote.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday ordered home the remainder of the 1,600 active-duty troops brought to the national capital region to respond to protests.
Trump had no public events on his daily schedule for Saturday and was not seen to have left the White House. His Twitter feed was largely quiet.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Saturday said “today is the day we pushed the army out of” Washington during an address at the newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House.
“We are well equipped to handle large demonstrations and First Amendment activities,” Bowser had previously written in a letter to the president.
Trump continued to criticize Bowser and further fuel tensions between activists and police throughout the week, on Thursday tweeting a letter calling protesters “terrorists.”
About 100 protesters gathered Saturday at his Doral golf resort just outside Miami, in a demonstration organized by Latinos for Black Lives Matter.
The protests came as the outline of a sweeping new police reform bill being drafted by House and Senate Democrats circulated on Capitol Hill.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) would ban chokeholds, limit “qualified immunity” for police officers, create a national misconduct registry, end the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases and make lynching a federal crime among other dramatic changes.
The NYPD suspended two of its officers without pay on Saturday after video posted online showed one officer throwing a woman to the ground and another pulling down a Black Lives Matter protester’s mask to pepper spray him.
Two police officers in Buffalo, N.Y., were also suspended and then charged Saturday morning with second degree assault of a 75-year-old protester after a video of the incident went viral.
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