'This is just a start': states announce police reforms as protests enter second weekend

Maanvi Singh and Mario Koran in Oakland

Nationwide protests hurtled toward a second weekend following the police killing of George Floyd, as several cities and states took steps to reform controversial policing tactics.

In Minneapolis, where Floyd died last Monday after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, the city agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints by police and to require officers to try to stop any other officers they see using improper force. They marked the first concrete steps to remake the city’s police force since Floyd’s death.

The state human rights commissioner, Rebecca Lucero, said the changes were necessary to stop continuing harm to people of color “who have suffered generational pain and trauma as a result of systemic and institutional racism”.

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“This is just a start,” Lucero said. “There is a lot more work to do here, and that work must and will be done with speed and community engagement.”

Floyd’s death has promoted the re-examination of police techniques elsewhere. In California, Gavin Newsom on Friday ordered the state’s police training program to stop teaching officers how to use a neck hold that blocks the flow of blood to the brain, known as a carotid hold or sleeper hold. Fifteen law enforcement agencies in San Diego county banned the practice earlier this week. 

The carotid hold “has no place any longer in 21st century practices and policing”, he said.

Newsom also had words on the use of teargas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, saying protesters “have the right to protest peacefully – not be harassed, not be shot at by rubber bullets or teargas”. He also announced plans to create a new “statewide standard” for police use of force at protests.

The mayor of Seattle on Friday banned the use of teargas by police for 30 days.

Demonstrations continue coast to coast

The nearly two weeks since Floyd’s killing have led to the largest civil unrest since since 1968 and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. While the momentum has continued, the mood has largely shifted from explosive anger to more peaceful calls for change.

The violent flareups that characterized some events last weekend have given way almost entirely to calm demonstrations. Looting that occurred on Sunday and Monday also appears to have ceased.

Formal and impromptu memorials to Floyd stretched from Minneapolis to North Carolina – where family members will gather on Saturday to mourn him – and beyond. In Detroit, a huge showing of protesters shut down a bridge. In Columbus, Ohio, a local reporter called a crowd that gathered one of the largest yet. In Wisconsin, at least 100 cars joined a “Caravan for Justice” in Racine, while protesters gathered near the county courthouse for a rally. And in New Orleans, demonstrators met on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington DC, renamed a street just in front of the presidential residence Black Lives Matter Plaza. Photograph: Carlos Barría/Reuters

In the nation’s capital, “Black Lives Matter” was painted in huge yellow lettering on a street near the White House, and the mayor, Muriel Bowser, renamed part of it Black Lives Matter Plaza.

In New York City, protesters marched through the city again by the thousands. About three hundred people gathered in Union Square for a rally organized by medical professionals who have been battling the Covid-19 pandemic at its center for the last three months. One protester held a sign that read, “You Clapped For Us, We Kneel For You,” referring to the city’s ritual clapping each night at 7pm to salute healthcare workers.

“We want to redirect the respect that was given to us throughout the coronavirus pandemic and give that same respect to members of the community who are on the frontlines fighting for social justice,” said Hillary Duenas, one of the event organizers, who works at Mount Sinai hospital.

Other victims of police violence continue to be recognized alongside Floyd. In Washington DC, demonstrators sang happy birthday to Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 on Friday had she not been killed by Kentucky police in her own home.

In Los Angeles, activists displayed the names of people killed by LA county law enforcement since 2000. Protesters placed roses next to the posters, which were placed in front of the Hall of Justice.

Police scrutiny continues

On Friday, California announced an investigation into the police department of Vallejo, a Bay Area city facing intense scrutiny following the shooting of Sean Monterrosa, an unarmed 22-year-old, amid protests this week.

Police in Buffalo, New York, were also under fire after video emerged on Thursday of an officer shoving a 75-year-old demonstrator, causing him to fall and gravely injury his head. More than 50 police officers resigned on Friday in a show of support for their colleges who had been suspended over the incident.

A man holds a photograph of Breonna Taylor on her birthday as he kneels with other protesters on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP

Another day of protests in New York City brought more examples of officials downplaying or denying the police department’s rough treatment of protesters.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday said he had personally seen “no use of force around peaceful protests” and cast doubt on people who had, despite social media posts and witness accounts of officers moving on demonstrators without provocation and bashing them with batons.

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“What an absolute disgrace. This is just not true,” the city councilman Jimmy Van Bramer tweeted following de Blasio’s comments, which were made at a morning news briefing about officers aggressively breaking up a rally in the Bronx as the city’s 8pm curfew kicked in Thursday, leading to scores of arrests and cries of brutality. “You are gaslighting an entire City.”

Meanwhile in Washington, the recent death of Manuel Ellis in police custody faced growing scrutiny. Ellis, 33, died minutes after his arrest while pleading “I can’t breathe”, echoing Floyd and Eric Garner. The local medical examiner’s office concluded that Ellis’s death was a homicide.


The Washington governor, Jay Inslee, has promised an independent review of Ellis’s death.

Dozens of healthcare workers in Seattle lined the streets outside Swedish hospital for a moment of silence on Friday in support of the Floyd protests. Workers, who have spent months battling coronavirus, took a knee in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Hallie Golden, Joan E Greve and agencies contributed reporting