Tensions simmer in US after weekend of protests and violence

Mass protests engulfed the United States at the weekend, as public anger at the death of African-American man George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last week reverberated across the country.

Violence erupted on the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities, with authorities imposing curfews and deploying the National Guard as they sought to maintain public order.

Although president Donald Trump did not make a public address on the violence, he used his Twitter account throughout the weekend to denounce the protesters as “thugs” and hard-left agitators. On Sunday evening he described them as “ANARCHISTS”.

On Sunday he also risked inflaming further conflict by designating the anti-fascist group known as “Antifa” as a terrorist organisation. The move was seen as highly provocative given that the left-wing group is not an organised entity, raising fears that individuals could be targeted at will by authorities.

In Atlanta, hundreds of protesters clashed with police near CNN headquarters in the centre of the city for a second night on Saturday, amid outrage over the death of Mr Floyd while he was being restrained by a white police officer.

Protesters threw water bottles and fire crackers at police officers who were lined up behind riot shields during a tense stand-off.

Groups of people chanted “George Floyd” and “Hands up, don’t shoot” as dozens of members of the National Guard blocked the entry to Centennial Olympic Park nearby. As a curfew began at 9pm, police launched tear gas and moved forward, dispersing the crowd as helicopters and surveillance drones flew overhead.

“The system is wrong, so wrong,” Jessica, a young African-American woman told The Irish Times, denouncing Mr Floyd’s death as “pure racism”.

“He was not resisting arrest – you don’t have to use that force . . . This kind of treatment has been going on a long time.”

Like most protesters, Jessica was wearing a mask, a stark reminder of the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately affected African-Americans in the United States.

The scene in Atlanta was replicated across America, with authorities poised for further violence on Sunday night.

New York

More than 100 arrests were made in New York, as police vehicles burned and two police cars appeared to drive into a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn. New York Police commissioner, Irish-American Dermot Shea, said he was “extremely proud” of how the NYPD had comported themselves.

 “What we saw in New York city last night and the night before was not about peaceful protest of any kind . . . It was a mob bent solely on taking advantage of a moment in American history . . . to intentionally inflict chaos, mayhem, and injury just for the sake of doing so.”

Minneapolis witnessed its fifth consecutive night of violence with police firing rubber bullets at some protesters. The curfew was extended into Sunday night.

In Washington, violence came right to the gates of the White House as protesters clashed with authorities, and vehicles and bins were set alight.

Many prominent politicians treaded a difficult line as they sympathised with the cause of the protesters, most of whom were peaceful, while also urging non-violent protests.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who represents the Minneapolis district in Congress, said those responsible for the violence in the city were “not interested in protecting black lives”.

But she denounced Mr Trump for “glorifying violence”, describing his response to the protests as “appalling and disturbing”.

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