New charges against Minneapolis policemen as protests continue
Prosecutors on June 3 leveled new criminal charges against four Minneapolis policemen implicated in the death of a black man pinned by his neck to the street during an arrest that sparked more than a week of nationwide protest and civil strife.
The added murder charge filed against one officer already in custody and the arrest of three more accused of playing a role in the killing of George Floyd, 46, came as several nights of escalating unrest gave way to mostly peaceful protests.
Thousands of demonstrators massed near the White House lit up their cellphone flashlights and sang along to the 1970s soul tune "Lean on Me," before resuming a chorus of anti-police chants.
In a further display of self-policing seen in Washington and elsewhere this week, a number of protesters urge some of their more provocative cohorts to stop taunting police and leave.
Several major cities scaled back or lifted curfews imposed for the past few days. But not all was calm.
In New York City's Brooklyn borough, police in riot gear charged into a crowd of about 1,000 protesters defying a local curfew, albeit peacefully, near an outdoor plaza, and clubbed demonstrators and journalists as they scurried for cover in a downpour of heavy rain.
The confrontation in Brooklyn seemed to be the biggest exception to a calmer night, hours after the new charges in Minneapolis.
Derek Chauvin, jailed on May 29 on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, was newly charged with second-degree murder.
The added charge, defined under Minnesota law as unintentionally causing another person's death in the commission of a felony offense, can carry a sentence of up to 40 years, 15 years longer than the maximum sentence for third-degree murder.
Chauvin, 44, was the white officer seen in widely circulated video footage kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd gasped for air and repeatedly groaned, "Please, I can't breathe."
Floyd, whom police suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit bill to pay for cigarettes, was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the May 25 encounter.
Three fellow officers fired from the Minneapolis police department along with Chauvin the next day were charged on June 3 - each with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The three men - Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao - have also been taken into custody. Aiding and abetting second-degree murder carries the same maximum punishment as the underlying offense - 40 years in prison.
Floyd's death has become the latest flashpoint for long-simmering rage over police brutality against African Americans, propelling the issue of racial justice to the top of the political agenda five months before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3.
The spectacle of city streets flooded with angry though mostly peaceful protesters - punctuated by scenes of arson, looting and clashes with police - have fueled a sense of crisis.
The upheavals have flared following weeks of social lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced millions of Americans out of work and disproportionately affected minorities.
Trial months away
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a black former U.S. congressman, has requested bail of $1 million for each of the four former officers charged in the Floyd case.
"This is a significant step forward on the road to justice, and we are gratified that this important action was brought before George Floyd's body was laid to rest," Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Floyd family, said in a statement.
Ellison told a news conference winning a conviction "will be hard," noting that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office filed the original charges against Chauvin, is the only prosecutor in the state to have successfully convicted a police officer for murder. Fully investigating the case "is going to take months," he said.
Protests erupted in Minneapolis the night after Floyd's death and quickly spread to dozens of cities large and small across the United States.
In many cities, demonstrators defying nighttime curfews have been met by police in riot gear firing tear gas, mace and rubber bullets to disperse unruly crowds. National Guard troops have been activated in several states to assist local law enforcement.
Authorities and some protest organizers have blamed much of the lawlessness on outside agitators and criminal elements.
Republican President Donald Trump has said justice must be done in Floyd's case but also touted a hard line against violent protests, threatening to use the military to restore order.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he did not back deploying troops to patrol the country.
"The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now," he told a news briefing.
At the south Minneapolis street corner where Floyd was arrested, a crowd of hundreds stood in a vigil on June 3, some with their fists in the air, some weeping.
"These are baby steps," Kenneth Williams, 54, a black U.S. Navy veteran who lives nearby, said of the newly announced criminal charges in the case.
"Somebody should have stepped up and done something at the scene that day."
"Cops have been getting away with this for years, but now we have cameras," he added.
Thousands protest in London for Black Lives Matter
In the meantime, thousands of people took to the streets of London on June 3 to march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and protest the killing of Floyd.
The protests were focused in Hyde Park, central London and started at 1 p.m. Demonstrators initially practiced social distancing. But as their numbers swelled, the space between protestors shrank. A considerable number of demonstrators wore face masks and gloves, however.
They chanted “Black lives matter,” “We will not be silent” and “No justice, no peace.”
One of the protest organizers told the Evening Standard, a London newspaper: “The injustice in the United States has refocused the similar problems we have here in the United Kingdom.”
“Since 1990, almost one person a week has died at the hands of the police or prison system in Britain, and we need accountability and reform here as well,” he said.
“This crisis has to stop if we don't want to go in the same direction as the United States.”
At 5.25 p.m., Guardian journalist Mattha Busby uploaded a video of scuffles between protestors and police, and tweeted: “It's kicking off now. Unclear exactly what started things. Police appeared to attempt to take a man from the crowd and pandemonium ensued.”
Shortly after, he tweeted: “I should add, things have calmed down significantly now after the video was taken. A couple of people were led away by officers. Tensions are growing and protesters here show no signs of heading to Trafalgar Square.”
“The crowd has been thinning out,” he later tweeted. “It would be a shame if earlier's flash point at all overshadowed what has overwhelmingly been a peaceful and positive demo. Sky News are reporting a police officer was punched, triggering the incident and arrests.”
Commander Alex Murray from London's Metropolitan Police uploaded a video to Twitter in the evening, where he said: "So we can see feelings are running really high today. It's been a peaceful protest. We're really grateful for everybody who has been peaceful, and we are committed to working with the people of London to make London a lot safer and to build trust with all
Greek demonstrators hurl firebombs towards embassy
Demonstrators hurled firebombs in a march towards the U.S. Embassy compound in Athens on June 3 in a protest over the death of Floyd.
Reuters journalists saw demonstrators throwing several flaming objects which erupted into flames on the street towards the heavily-guarded embassy in central Athens and police responding with rounds of teargas.
The embassy itself was cordoned off with rows of blue police buses.
Demonstrators were holding banners and placards reading "Black lives matter" and "I can't breathe".
Police sources estimated the number of protesters at more than 3,000.