Thousands of protesters took to the streets in New York to demonstrate against the killing of African-American George Floyd by a white police officer, setting police vehicles on fire in some areas and several people being arrested through the day.
Videos and photos posted on social media on Saturday showed huge crowds gathering in parts of Manhattan, some even outside the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, in Times Square, Columbus Circle, Queens and areas in Brooklyn and Bronx to protest the killing of Floyd, who died this week after a white police officer kneeled on his neck while he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground.
In his last moments, Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe”, which the demonstrators used as a clarion call demanding action against brutality by the police.
Social media posts showed a couple of police vehicles being set on fire. A report in NBC News said the protesters shouted the slogans “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot” as they walked the streets. A large vehicle was also set ablaze near the Union Square.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, referring to the protest in Brooklyn, said there were people who came to peacefully protest but there were others “who came there obviously to try and incite acts of violence”.
“There were elected officials at this protest, some of whom were pepper sprayed. What a horrible, horrible situation that the people who represent us, who are there on behalf of their community peacefully observing, trying to help keep the peace, that they ended up being victims of pepper spraying. That’s unacceptable and we need to understand exactly why that happened. There needs to be accountability,” he said.
The Mayor added that he has seen some protest videos that do not reflect the philosophy of this city, the values of this city, the values of this administration, do not reflect the values of the NYPD (New York Police Department)”.
“We’ve seen some videos where protestors were handled very violently and very roughly, and that is not neighbourhood policing and we will not accept that kind of behaviour from any police officer,” he said.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the protest in Brooklyn had about 3,000 people, who splintered into several smaller protests. He said over 200 people were arrested and multiple officers injured.
Shea said the police recovered firearm, brass knuckles and a person was arrested for attempted murder of four police officers by throwing a Molotov cocktail into an occupied marked police van.
He said countless bricks and other items were thrown at police officers. “Again, this was a volatile…dangerous situation and any and all violence we denounce. We can do better than this and we must.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said there is an injustice in the criminal justice system that is abhorrent.
“And it is not just George Floyd – you look back even in modern history in my life time…We suffered in this city through Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell and Eric Garner. How many times have we seen the same situation? Yes, the names change, but the color doesn’t. And that is the painful reality of this situation,” he said.
The Governor said America’s history of discrimination and racism dates back hundreds of years.
“That is the honest truth and that’s what is behind this anger and frustration and I share the outrage at this fundamental injustice. I do. And that’s why I say I figuratively stand with the protestors, but violence is not the answer. It never is the answer.
“As a matter of fact, it is counterproductive because the violence then obscures the righteousness of the message and the mission. And you lose the point by the violence in response…Yes, outrage. Yes, anger. Yes, frustration. But not violence.” he said.
Cuomo said he has asked New York Attorney General Letitia James to conduct an independent review of police procedures and crowd actions during the protests.
“Peaceful protest is a basic civil right. That right should be protected and guarded. We take the designation to investigate last night’s actions very seriously. We will act independently to seek answers, ensure that the truth is laid bare, and that there is accountability for any wrongdoing. We will be transparent in our findings as we seek accountability for those who did wrong,” James said.