WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Prominent Democratic politicians on Friday embraced the cause of U.S. protesters angered by the death of a black man in Minneapolis police custody, adopting their slogans and announcing reforms as tensions remained high in major cities.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has sparred with U.S. President Donald Trump over his sometimes heavy-handed response to the rallies and marches in the nation’s capital, had the slogan “Black Lives Matter” painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House.
In Minneapolis, where 46-year-old George Floyd died on May 25 after a police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes, Democratic city leaders voted to end the use of knee restraints and choke holds, although the ordinance must be approved by a judge.
Separate autopsies conducted by the Hennepin County Medical examiner and a team hired by Floyd’s family each found that he died from asphyxiation.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said he would bar a state police training agency from teaching a restraint technique, sometimes called a “sleeper hold,” that involves restricting the carotid artery in the neck.
And in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state should lead the way in passing “Say Their Name” reforms, including making police disciplinary records publicly available and banning chokeholds.
“Mr Floyd’s murder was the breaking point,” Cuomo, also a Democrat, said in a statement. “People are saying enough is enough, we must change.”
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a videotaped message, said the NFL had made mistakes in not listening to players and it would now “encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
The NFL, ranked as America’s most popular professional league in polls and television ratings, has been locked in a debate with players over kneeling protests during the national anthem before games, a practice made popular by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is black, in 2016 to protest against racial injustice and police brutality.
Trump, who derided the kneeling players as “sons of bitches” in 2017, criticized their actions again on Twitter earlier on Friday.
OFFICERS SUSPENDED AFTER SHOVING 75-YEAR-OLD
Black Lives Matter activists have also called for cities to defund police departments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who in April proposed increasing law enforcement funding, this week reversed course and said he would seek some $150 million in cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.
After video footage from upstate New York raised further questions about the handling of demonstrators by law enforcement, two Buffalo police officers seen on Thursday shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground were suspended and placed under investigation.
All 57 members of a police tactical unit quit the unit to protest their treatment, media said Friday. [L1N2DI1TC]
Protests over the death of Floyd have rocked cities including Atlanta, Denver, Detroit as well as many smaller communities.
The demonstrations have erupted as the public and businesses struggle to recover from sweeping lockdowns imposed by state and local officials due to the coronavirus. Infectious disease experts have said that the protests could spark a new outbreak of COVID-19.
On Friday, marches and gatherings took place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, New York and Denver, among other places. Protesters also massed again in the rain in front of the White House. The nighttime protests were largely peaceful.
In Washington, the city installed a street sign for “Black Lives Matter Plaza” at an intersection close to the White House.
After nightfall, Bowser had light projections spelling out “Black Lives Matter” beamed onto two nearby buildings, which she said on Twitter was a “night light” so that Trump would dream about the newly named plaza.
The mayor and Trump, a Republican, have bickered publicly over the president’s use of federal law-enforcement agencies and military police to shut down protests.
U.S. Park Police fired smoke grenades and chemical irritant “pepper balls” to break up a peaceful rally on Monday night so that Trump could walk from the White House to a nearby church for a photo opportunity.
“The incompetent Mayor of Washington, D.C., @MayorBowser, who’s budget is totally out of control and is constantly coming back to us for ‘handouts’, is now fighting with the National Guard, who saved her from great embarrassment,” Trump said on Twitter.
On Friday, a U.S. official said the Pentagon would send back the remaining 900 active-duty troops who had been deployed to the Washington, D.C., area.
Trump, who is seeking re-election in November, was cheered on Friday by an unexpected jump in U.S. employment in May, defying predictions of further job losses inflicted by the pandemic.
The president said Floyd might be pleased by the jobs report. “Hopefully, George is looking down right now, and saying, ‘This is a great thing that’s happening for our country’,” he said.
That drew a rebuke from former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who noted that Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe” as a police officer kneeled on his neck.
“For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd, I frankly, think is despicable,” Biden said at an event in Delaware.
In a further reflection of the tension, police in the Washington area said they arrested a 60-year-old cyclist whose videotaped confrontation with three youngsters posting flyers protesting racism on a nature trail drew widespread outrage.
The man was charged with second-degree assault, police said.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Alexandra Alper, Andy Sullivan, Idrees Ali, Phil Stewart, Nathan Layne, Sharon Bernstein, Dan Whitcomb, Matt Spetalnick, Raphael Satter; Writing by Grant McCool, Dan Whitcomb and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Howard Goller, Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman