NEW YORK – Police vehicles running into demonstrators, officers tackling protesters from behind and firing pepper spray and rubber bullets directly into the faces of people.
Reportedly, these are some of the actions being taken by police in many US cities amid the heavy street protests that have brewed up after the death of a black man, George Floyd, while being arrested by white cops in Minneapolis last week – actions that have done little to quell the protests against racism that have turned more and more violent in recent days.
On Saturday night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called an urgent press conference amid the incessant sound of helicopters overhead and police sirens echoing among the buildings, a press conference at which he tried to justify the images of street protests around the country that have gone viral on the social networks.
Two New York Police Department SUVs surrounded by dozens of demonstrators in Brooklyn accelerated and mowed down dozens of people, who – fortunately – simply sprawled to the side over the pavement and not under the wheels of the churning vehicles.
That tactic, along with others such as firing pepper spray at demonstrators with their hands in the air, have sparked extensive criticism about whether these actions are achieving the alleged main objective of police tactics at this time: de-escalation of the protests.
New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said on Sunday that it was not clear whether police actions were contributing to de-escalate the situation in the Big Apple, but adding that he is not going to allow the lives of NYPD officers to be endangered.
De Blasio tried to dial down the situation Saturday evening by saying that he did not like seeing the vans run into the crowd bowling over protesters and promised that the matter will be investigated, but he also said that “It is inappropriate for protestors to surround a police vehicle and threaten police officers. That’s wrong on its face and that hasn’t happened in the history of protests in this city.”
The New York mayor added that it was “clear that a different element has come into play here who are trying to hurt police officers and trying to damage their vehicles,” adding that he “understood (the officers) didn’t start the situation,” and saying it was “started by a group of protesters converging on a police vehicle.”
On Saturday night, police made 350 arrests in New York, which did not experience the level of violence and looting that cities like Detroit, Chicago, Dallas or even Albany, New York, did where fires and chaos were the norm after 10:00 pm.
De Blasio said that New York authorities were in the process of reforming the local police department, promising that the police were becoming better integrated into the communities where they patrol.
The New York police budget has increased about 30% over the past six years, despite the fact that crime has steadily been on the decline and is currently near historic lows.
Cities like Chicago, Houston, Detroit and Oakland, California, devote more than one-third of their municipal budgets to their police departments, according to figures from the Center for Popular Democracy. In all those urban areas, the protests have spun out of control, devolving into clashes, looting and chaos.
In the six years since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, another African American whose death at the hands of police resulted in riots and protests across the country, little seems to have changed in terms of the way police deal with racial and economic inequality in the US, despite the generous budgets allocated to police work and plans for reform.
To this, one must add the post-pandemic scenario with city budgets in freefall and unemployment at levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, a situation that is affecting – above all – young people and African Americans.
President Donald Trump is doing little to try and tone down the protests against police brutality and racism, and the police and mayors of various cities are doing everything in their power to avoid further chaos, including declaring curfews, arresting huge numbers of people who are found out on the streets after the lockdown hour.
On Saturday night, Michigan provided some clear intra-state contrasts in the way different cities are dealing with the crisis. In Detroit, with nightfall, police began firing tear gas, law enforcement helicopters circled overhead and violent demonstrations abounded, with some rowdies taking advantage of the huge numbers of people on the street and the general chaos to loot stores and businesses.
On the other hand, in the Michigan city of Flint – one of the urban areas most heavily affected by the deindustrialization of the Midwest –, officials from the Sheriff’s Department joined the protests to shout, along with the demonstrators, “Black Lives Matter.”
This police solidarity with the rallying cry that for years has been heard coast to coast was repeated in Camden, New Jersey, and Santa Cruz, California, with no disturbances being reported in such locales.
Meanwhile, the National Guard said that as of Sunday morning, the number of Guard troops that have been mobilized to respond to “civil disturbances” around the country totals about 5,000, although the Guard added in its statement that “the situation is fluid” and thus “those numbers can change rapidly” and noting that 2,000 more Guardsmen are ready to be activated, should the situation require it.
US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday morning in an interview with CNN that “I think 99.9% of our law enforcement officers are great Americans, and many of them are African American, Hispanic, Asian.”
O’Brien told the cable network: “They’re working the toughest neighborhoods, they’ve got the hardest jobs to do in this country. And … they’re my heroes.”
He said “bad cops” must “be rooted out, because there’s a few bad apples that are giving law enforcement a terrible name. And there’s no doubt that there’s some racist police. I think they’re the minority.”
“I’m just so proud of the way our law enforcement professionals are protecting us and handling the situation with restraint. And we love our law enforcement, but we do have to get rid of those like the dirty cop that killed George Floyd,” said O’Brien, referring to Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who was fired and later charged with third degree murder and manslaughter for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes last Monday – cutting off his air and/or the blood supply to his brain – while he and several other cops were arresting him for allegedly trying to pass a fake $20 bill at a local store.
Meanwhile, in Europe demonstrations against police violence against US blacks erupted in Berlin, London and Copenhagen, with thousands of people taking to the streets for the second day, although no violence was reported.
The European protesters cut traffic along various avenues of their marches, displaying signs, chanting slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” and others, and surrounding US embassies and other facilities abroad.