California curfews lifting amid peaceful protests

CHRISTOPHER WEBER and BRIAN MELLEY
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America Protests California

Protesters march Thursday, June 4, 2020, in San Diego. Protests continue to be held in U.S. cities, sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California cities and counties cautiously lifted curfews after days of sporadic mayhem were replaced by peaceful protests and pledges by lawmakers to fight inequality.

Marches and rallies Thursday in Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere were marked by “Black Lives Matter” signs and calls for change. The tone was passionate but less confrontational. There were sit-ins, kneel-ins and moments of silence.

After watching several days of gatherings, Natalie Illescas, 18, of the neighborhood of East Los Angeles, came out for a rally at LA City Hall. Coming from a Latino home, Illescas said she “regularly experiences racism as a minority.”

“Our skins are different colors, but we all bleed the same,” she said.

Billy Black, a 25-year-old African American who joined the crowd in the hot sun, said the recent calm of the protests helped lure him out to lend his voice after being concerned over the weekend by TV images of marchers clashing with police in riot gear, police cruisers set ablaze and stores ransacked in broad daylight.

“I didn’t like knowing that people were outside taking a stand for something I believe in, while I was in air-conditioned comfort,” Black said.

Curfews were imposed for several days in many cities — some as early as 1 p.m. — after a weekend of unrest and looting — blamed mostly on non-protesters. Cities were criticized for taking the rare step to force residents to stay home and then use the order to arrest thousands of peaceful protesters who stayed out past curfew.

Although National Guard troops remained on guard in larger communities, curfews were lifted in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, Oakland and several Bay Area counties.

“I’m a little scared about that,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said about ending the five-night order. “But sometimes fear is what you’ve got to do.”

A curfew remained in force for a fourth night in the capitol city of Sacramento. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California urged the mayor and City Council to revise or rescind it, saying it suppressed “protected political speech.”

Passionate protesters continued to call for racial justice Thursday in symbolic acts of remembrance for Floyd on the day of his funeral in Minnesota.

Dozens of demonstrators laid on the ground outside the police headquarters of the city of South San Francisco with their hands behind their backs and chanted “I can’t breathe,” the dying words of Floyd, a black man whose neck was pinned to the ground by the knee of a white police officer now charged with murder.

In the middle of a California Senate hearing, lawmakers paused to observe 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to mark the amount of time Floyd was restrained.

Protesters have called for prosecuting police brutality and, in the case of LA, even defunding the police department. Garcetti reversed course Wednesday on plans to boost police funding and outlined a plan to shift $250 million in the city budget to address what he called structural black racism and related issues, including funds for youth employment, health care and housing.

“Your tax dollars should go towards erasing trauma, not causing it,” Garcetti said at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted Thursday night that in the upcoming city budget, she and Supervisor Shamann Walton would lead an effort to redirect some Police Department funding to African American community projects in the upcoming budget.

“Decades of disinvestment and racially disparate policies have disproportionately hurt” that community, she said.

Police have been injured in the protests, including a Los Angeles officer who was hospitalized after his skull was fractured with a brick, and others pelted with rocks and bottles. But protesters and activists have complained of being roughed up by police wielding batons, firing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets.

A group of state lawmakers on Thursday said they would introduce legislation for when such ammunition could be used.

“Breaking a city-imposed curfew is not a sufficient basis for use of rubber bullets,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “Crowd control where there is no rioting is not proper grounds to use rubber bullets.”

In San Jose, hundreds of complaints about police behavior have been made in recent days. On Thursday, police defended their use of force against those they described as violent agitators.

“When my boots hit the ground ... I stepped into a war zone,” Capt. Jason Dwyer said.

Police Chief Eddie Garcia said officers saved lives and property and ensured that peaceful demonstrations could continue.

“Your officers stood there and absorbed the collective rage of generations,” he said.

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Associated Press journalists Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles, Cuneyt Dil in Sacramento, and Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.