After more than a week of mass protests over the death of George Floyd, the demonstrations Tuesday night, while large, were relatively peaceful, although not without clashes between police and marchers who defied curfews in many cities. Many police departments have handled the protests professionally, and many individual law-enforcement officers have expressed personal sympathy with the protests, but there is a growing list of incidents of excessive force and indiscriminate arrests of protesters and of journalists covering the demonstrations, not all of which have been peaceful.
A number of these confrontations, including an aerial shot of an NYPD car scattering a crowd of protesters blocking a street in Brooklyn and the on-air arrest of a CNN correspondent in Minneapolis, have become iconic. Activist Jordan Uhl compiled many of them into a two-minute video of police teargassing, shoving, roughing up demonstrators, driving into them or trampling them with horses that has been viewed tens of millions of times across various social media platforms. He received so many submissions that he posted a second supercut.
Who is this serving?— jordan (@JordanUhl) May 31, 2020
Who is this protecting? pic.twitter.com/IK8DkwLLUT
Police officials and unions have said they are protecting themselves against violent protesters and looters. A retired St. Louis police captain who was helping guard a pawnshop against looters was shot and killed overnight Monday.
The most widely seen instance occurred on Monday in Washington, D.C., when police used tear gas to clear a street outside the White House to allow President Trump to stage an awkward photo op with a Bible outside a nearby church.
In Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer announced the firing of Police Chief Steve Conrad after the shooting on Monday of David McAtee, a 53-year-old black man who owned a barbecue restaurant. Two officers involved with the shooting had not activated their body cameras and were put on administrative leave. On Tuesday, the city’s police department released a video it said showed McAtee firing on officers, although the footage is ambiguous.
Louisville police also reassigned an officer who fired a pepperball at a camera crew from local station WAVE 3 live on television Friday, causing minor injuries. A reporter for the Louisville Courier Journal said she was nearly struck by a police vehicle on Saturday as she recorded video of officers confiscating water and milk bottles gathered by protesters. Milk is sometimes used to wash away tear gas. Fischer said the supplies were public safety hazards.
“The best decision for the safety of everybody was to remove those materials,” said the mayor.
Louisville is the city where a young woman, Breonna Taylor, was shot and killed in her bed in March by police officers serving a “no-knock” warrant in the middle of the night. Demonstrators there have been calling for charging the officers who conducted the raid.
According to a lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family, the police fired more than 20 rounds in the apartment. Taylor was hit eight times and pronounced dead at the scene. The officers were looking for a drug suspect who lived 10 miles away and was already in police custody, according to the Courier Journal. Taylor’s boyfriend, who was in the apartment with her, fired at the officers, apparently mistaking them for burglars.
In Atlanta, a local news broadcast captured police pulling over a car containing two college students who were leaving a protest Saturday night. The windows of the car were broken as police dragged Taniyah Pilgrim, 20, out and tased Messiah Young, 22. The city announced that two officers had been fired and charged with aggravated assault. Four more were also charged and disciplined.
“As we watch the video today, it became abundantly clear immediately with the young woman that this force was excessive,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. “It also became abundantly clear that the officer who tased the young man needed to be terminated as well.”
In an interview with Yahoo News, Bottoms said seeing the attack “was like watching my children being attacked.”
Multiple videos showed two New York Police Department vehicles driving into a crowd of protesters on Saturday night. Mayor Bill de Blasio dismissed the incident, earning criticism from across the city, including from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“Your comments tonight were unacceptable,” wrote the freshman Democratic congresswoman. “As mayor, this police department is under your leadership. This moment demands leadership & accountability from each of us. Defending and making excuses for NYPD running SUVs into crowds was wrong. Make it right. De-escalate. Running SUVs in crowds of people should never, ever be normalized. No matter who does it, no matter why.”
On Tuesday, the NYPD sergeants’ union issued a statement saying it would “win this war on New York City.”
In Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced a change to its use-of-force guidelines after officers gassed an otherwise peaceful protest on Monday night. Police initially said they attacked the crowd because it turned hostile, but they’ve been unable to provide evidence, and a review of available video from local station WHYY failed to find footage to confirm their story.
Local news in Salt Lake City caught footage of police in riot gear on Saturday knocking over 67-year-old James Tobin, who was attempting to get out of the way but walks with a cane. Tobin told ABC4 News that he received a call from the police chief and an apology. In Denver, a police officer was fired Tuesday after posting a photo of himself and two other officers in tactical gear along with the caption “Let’s start a riot.” In Asheville, N.C., a viral video Tuesday evening appeared to show police destroying a city-approved medical station.
Black Lives Matter claimed there was misconduct in Chicago by police, who have been accused by protesters of escalating conflict over the weekend. In Columbus, Ohio, Rep. Joyce Beatty was among officials who were hit by pepper spray from the police on Saturday, while officers were criticized for not displaying their badge numbers or having body cameras. Police officials told the Columbus Dispatch that badges are not displayed when officers wear what the city calls its “civil disorder uniform” and that body cameras are not made to go on them.
Cover thumbnail photo: Justin Heiman/Getty Images