Military on alert as protests spread across US in wake of George Floyd’s death


As unrest spread across dozens of American cities, the Pentagon took the rare step of ordering the Army to put several active-duty US military police units on the ready to deploy to Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd sparked the widespread protests.

Soldiers from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York have been ordered to be ready to deploy within four hours if called, according to three people with direct knowledge of the orders. The people did not want their names used because they were not authorised to discuss the preparations.

Protestors raise their hands in front of a burning vending cart in Atlanta, Georgia.

Be Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Protestors raise their hands in front of a burning vending cart in Atlanta, Georgia.

The get-ready orders were sent verbally on Friday, after President Donald Trump asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper for military options to help quell the unrest in Minneapolis after protests descended into looting and arson in some parts of the city.

In Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and beyond, thousands of protesters carried signs that said: “He said I can’t breathe. Justice for George.”

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They chanted “”No justice, no peace” and “Say his name. George Floyd.”

After hours of peaceful protest in downtown Atlanta, some demonstrators suddenly turned violent, smashing police cars, setting one on fire, spray-painting the iconic logo sign at CNN headquarters, and breaking into a restaurant.

Demonstrators paint on the CNN logo during a protest march in Atlanta, in response to the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Mike Stewart/AP

Demonstrators paint on the CNN logo during a protest march in Atlanta, in response to the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

The crowd pelted officers with bottles, chanting “Quit your jobs.”

People watched the scene from rooftops, some laughing as skirmishes broke out. Demonstrators ignored police demands to disperse. Some protesters moved to the city’s major interstate thoroughfare to try to block traffic.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms passionately addressed the protesters at a news conference: “This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.”

“You are disgracing our city,” she told protesters. “You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country. We are better than this. We are better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country. Go home, go home.”

Bottoms was flanked by rappers T.I. and Killer Mike, as well as the King’s daughter, Bernice King.

Killer Mike cried as he spoke.

“We have to be better than this moment. We have to be better than burning down our own homes. Because if we lose Atlanta what have we got?” he said.

A person wears a mask that says "Black Lives Matter" during a protest of the death of George Floyd in Las Vegas.

AP

A person wears a mask that says “Black Lives Matter” during a protest of the death of George Floyd in Las Vegas.

After Mayor Bottoms appealed for calm, the violence continued. More cars were set on fire, a Starbucks was smashed up, the windows of the College Football Hall of Fame were broken, and the iconic Omni Hotel was vandalized.

In Brooklyn, crowds of demonstrators chanted at police officers lined up outside the Barclays Centre. There were several moments of struggle, as some in the crowd pushed against metal barricades and police pushed back.

Scores of water bottles flew from the crowd toward the officers, and in return police sprayed an eye-irritating chemical at the group twice.

Protesters rally at Barclays Centre over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died Memorial Day while in the custody of the Minneapolis police in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

AP

Protesters rally at Barclays Centre over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died Memorial Day while in the custody of the Minneapolis police in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

The names of black people killed by police, including Floyd and Eric Garner, who died on Staten Island in 2014, were on signs carried by those in the crowd, and in their chants.

“It’s my duty to be out here,” said Brianna Petrisko, among those at Foley Square in lower Manhattan, where most were wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Our country has a sickness. We have to be out here. This is the only way we’re going to be heard.”

In Houston, where George Floyd grew up, several thousand people rallied in front of City Hall. Police had apparently taken into custody a woman who had a rifle and had tried to use it to incite the crowd.

Jimmy Ohaz, 19, came from the nearby city of Richmond, Texas.

“My question is how many more, how many more? I just want to live in a future where we all live in harmony and we’re not oppressed.”

– AAP and AP