Across America on Thursday night, thousands of people marched to their state capitols, their public squares, their police precincts. Across America, they shouted “I can’t breathe”—a dying plea turned rallying cry. Police took arms against demonstrators—dressing in riot gear, shooting at the citizens who employ them with rubber bullets, or spraying tear gas to “disperse” the crowds. Across America, gunshots rang out. Across America, protestors held up the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and dozens more on handmade signs, demanding justice too long delayed. They wore masks, knowledgeable of the pandemic that still grips this country, but pushed to act because of a more pernicious, more terrorizing epidemic: the ongoing, state-sponsored, state-enabled assault on black lives.
In Minneapolis, Minn., where 46-year-old George Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck—in broad daylight, in front of multiple bystanders—for at least 8 minutes, protesters breached the police department’s 3rd precinct, setting it aflame.
It was the third straight night of protests in the city since Floyd’s killing. Earlier on Thursday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he would not “rush” charges against Chauvin and Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who were all involved in Floyd’s arrest.
“That video is graphic and horrific, but there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge,” Freeman said when asked why charges had yet to be filed against the officers, who were all fired from their jobs this week.
In Denver, Colo., protesters calling for justice and police accountability spray painted Floyd’s name on the steps of the state capitol building; hundreds also filled busy city streets and interstates. At around 5:30 pm, the Washington Post reports, “[gunshots] rang out...close enough to the state capitol building to alarm lawmakers inside.”
State Rep. Leslie Herod told the Denver Post she didn’t see who fired the shots.
“They shot into a crowd of people protesting police brutality,” she said. “It’s an act of violence against our community.”
A spokesperson for the Denver police said no arrests have been made in the shooting or an intentional hit-and-run of a protester. In an attempt to restore calm, spokesman Kurt Barnes wrote on Twitter, “I share the immense anguish we all feel about the unjust murder of George Floyd. But let me be clear, senseless violence will never be healed by more violence.”
It’s telling that police are willing to call a killing “murder” when it isn’t their own officers on the line. But Barnes should note that the “senseless” state violence black people and black communities have faced for generations around this country hasn’t been healed by waiting. Many remember the last time chants of “I can’t breathe” filled the streets of America—it was, in fact, a mere 6 years ago. But despite a global pandemic in which police departments had a public health incentive to minimize interactions with the public, police killings through May 2020 occurred at the same rate as years past. Wesley Lowery, a journalist who helped track these killings at The Washington Post, tweeted that 375 people had been shot and killed by on-duty police officers so far this year.
This is what pushed anti-police brutality demonstrators out into Union Square in New York City on Thursday night; what led protesters to breach the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus; what called dozens in Phoenix to chant “I can’t breathe” in the faces of police armed with pepper spray and rubber bullets. This is why Martin Luther King III reminded the public of his father’s famous words yesterday, as the names of the dead were chanted, spray painted, and hashtagged around the country—“the riot is the language of the unheard.”
In Louisville, Kent., Breonna Taylor’s name was on the lips of hundreds of demonstrators, sickened by the lack of action since the 26-year-old EMT was killed in March by police officers. As the Washington Post writes, citing WFPL TV, “protesters blocked buses, broke an arm off a statue of King Louis XVI outside of City Hall, and threw fireworks at police officers.”
Louisville Metro Police say gunfire rang out in the crowd at around 11:30 pm. According to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, no police officers fired weapons. A police spokesperson said at least seven people were shot and multiple arrests were made, but didn’t give any details on how many, and whether alleged shooters were among them.
As turmoil broke out, Taylor’s sister, Juniyah Palmer, addressed the protesters:
“Louisville, thank you so much for saying Breonna’s name tonight,” she said. “We are not going to stop until we get justice, but we should stop tonight before people get hurt. Please go home, be safe and be ready to keep fighting.”