George Floyd: Thousands protest against racism in Washington DC

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Peaceful protest for George Floyd in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Peaceful protest for George Floyd in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Thousands are marching against racism and police brutality in Washington DC, as protests in the US sparked by the death of George Floyd enter a 12th day.

Crowds gathered near the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and Lafayette Park, where security forces blocked any approach to the nearby White House.

Meanwhile, people paid their respects to Mr Floyd in North Carolina, where he was born, before a memorial service.

Large anti-racism rallies also took place in a number of other countries.

In the UK, Parliament Square in central London was filled with people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, despite calls by the government to avoid mass gatherings for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

In Australia, there were major protests in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane that focused on the treatment of indigenous Australians.

Mr Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after being arrested outside a shop in Minneapolis on 25 May.

Video footage showed a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while he is pinned to the floor. Mr Floyd is heard repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”.

Mr Chauvin has been dismissed and charged with murder. Three other officers who were on the scene have also been sacked and charged with aiding and abetting.

Protesters gather on the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC (6 June 2020)
An area near the White House has been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza

In Washington DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser welcomed people gathered on a street near the White House that she renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza on Friday.

On Monday, federal law enforcement officers fired smoke grenades to clear a protest in the area ahead of a visit to a church by President Donald Trump.

Ms Bowser said the crowds in the capital had sent a message to Mr Trump.

“If he can take over Washington DC, he can come for any state, and none of us will be safe,” she said. “So today, we pushed the army away from our city.”

Protesters march past the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC (6 June 2020)
Demonstrators in Washington DC said they would not stop pushing for change

“Our soldiers should not be treated that way, they should not be asked to move on American citizens. Today, we say ‘no’; in November, we say ‘next’.”

Ms Bowser has requested the withdrawal of all federal law enforcement officers and National Guard troops from the city, saying their presence is “unnecessary”.

What’s happening elsewhere in the US?

Hundreds of people paid their respects to Mr Floyd in Raeford, North Carolina, laying flowers at a public viewing of his body in a church near where he was born.

A private memorial service was then held for members of his family.

People pay their respects to George Floyd before a memorial service in Raeford, North Carolina (6 June 2020)
In North Carolina, George Floyd’s family held a public viewing and a memorial service

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper ordered that flags be flown at half-mast from sunrise to sunset on Saturday in Mr Floyd’s honour.

In Buffalo, two police officers were charged with second-degree assault after they were filmed pushing a 75-year-old protester to the ground, seriously injuring him.

The officers, who pleaded not guilty and were released without bail, were suspended without pay after footage of the incident went viral on Thursday.

The protester, Martin Gugino, remains in hospital in a serious but stable condition.

The man approached police in Buffalo before being pushed backwards
The man approached police in Buffalo before being pushed backwards

On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights agreed to ban police neck restraints and chokeholds. California Governor Gavin Newsom also said he would move to end state police training in the use of the “carotid restraint”.

Seattle’s mayor, Carmen Best, banned the use by police of CS gas against protesters. And a federal judge in Denver ordered police to stop the use of tear gas, plastic bullets and other non-lethal force.

Meanwhile, the National Football League reversed its policy on protests against racial injustice by players during the national anthem.

What do protesters want?

An end to police brutality is undoubtedly at the forefront of protests nationwide.

But it is not the only concern. Repeated incidents of police brutality may have become the flashpoint, but issues with law enforcement are emblematic of the wider problem of systemic racism and inequality.

A young protester holds up a sign saying "Black Lives Matter" near the US Capitol in Washington (6 June 2020)
An end to police brutality is at the forefront of protests across the US

On social media and on the streets, those in support of the movement have called on elected officials to address these longstanding inequalities, from law enforcement to mass incarceration to healthcare.

Black Americans are jailed at five times the rate of white Americans and sentenced for drug offences six times more, often despite equal rates of drug use, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Black mothers die in childbirth at over twice the rate of white mothers, according to national health data. Decades of government-sanctioned segregation have also seen inequalities across school systems, housing and other public resources.

The US's history of racial inequality has paved the way for modern day police brutality
The US’s history of racial inequality has paved the way for modern day police brutality

A 2019 Pew Research Center study found more than eight-in-10 black adults say the legacy of slavery still affects black Americans’ position today. Half say it is unlikely America will ever see true racial equality.

As demonstrator Kyla Berges told BBC Minute: “The system has failed me for 300 plus years, so what do I have to do to make it change?”

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