US protests shift to memorialising George Floyd amid push for change

The tenor of the protests set off by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police has taken a turn from the explosive anger that has fueled the setting of fires, breaking of windows and other violence to a quiet, yet more forceful, grassroots call for more to be done to address racial injustice.

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Mourners in Minneapolis, where the unarmed black man died in police custody, heard how his tragedy could finally bring change. Source: 1 NEWS

Many of the protests were more subdued for a second night as marches turned into memorials for Floyd, who was the focus of a heartfelt tribute today in Minneapolis that drew family members, celebrities, politicians and civil rights advocates.

At his service, strong calls were made for meaningful changes in policing and the criminal justice system.

From demonstration sites around the country, protestors said the quieter mood is the result of several factors: the new and upgraded criminal charges against the police officers involved in Floyd's arrest; a more conciliatory approach by police who have marched with them or taken a knee to recognise their message; and the realisation that the burst of rage after Floyd's death is not sustainable.

“Personally, I think you can’t riot everyday for almost a week,” said Costa Smith, 26, who was protesting in downtown Atlanta.

Despite the shift in tone, protestors have shown no sign that they are going away and, if anything, are emboldened to stay on the streets to push for police reforms.

In New York City, Miguel Fernandes said there were “a lot more nights to go” of marching because protestors hadn’t got what they wanted.

Floyd's brother, Terrence, appeared in Brooklyn to carry on the fight for change, declaring “power to the people, all of us."

At the first in a series of memorials for Floyd, the Reverand Al Sharpton urged those gathered “to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!’”

Those at the Minneapolis tribute stood in silence for 8 minutes, 46 seconds — the amount of time Floyd was alledged to be on the ground under the control of police.

Floyd's golden casket was covered in red roses, and an image was projected above the pulpit of a mural of him painted at the street corner where he was arrested by police on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. The message on the mural: “I can breathe now.”

Sharpton vowed that this will become a movement to “change the whole system of justice.”

As the protests have taken root over the past week, they have become communities unto themselves.

In New York, where residents have been stuck at home for nearly three months because of the coronavirus pandemic, residents who can't go to a restaurant are happy to be able to go a protest.

People bring their dogs and share snacks and water bottles. They have been heartened by police who have joined them.

“It’s great to be alive, it’s history right now,” said protestor Kenyata Taylor.

In Atlanta, protestor Nate Saint carried a sign that encouraged people to vote. He attributed the reduction in violence in part to police.

“Cops are recognising that the more passive they become, the more receptive, the more they listen, the less the protestors are going to react,” he said.

A group of protestors stood near a line of police and National Guard troops. Some cursed officers. Others were seen talking to the officers.

It was a different scene from last week, when the city experienced widespread vandalism and looting following a peaceful demonstration.

Protestor Hilliard Jones, 24, sat on a barricade in downtown Atlanta near police. He's been attending the protests for nearly a week. The violence early on reflected centuries of injustice against blacks, he said.

“If you’ve been oppressed like we have for so long, eventually it’s going to explode," Jones said.

There were still skirmishes in the Bronx and elsewhere, In Buffalo, a police commissioner suspended two officers after video from WBFO showed a man being shoved after walking up to police as they were enforcing a curfew.

The man appeared to hit his head on the pavement and blood leaked out as officers walk past. The man was hospitalised.

Protestors in some cities feel support from both police and white people is growing. 

There have been instances of police kneeling and earlier this week in New York City, the crowd chanted for the officers who were standing in the distance to join them. One eventually did and told them they have support if they remain peaceful.

In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms walked with protestors downtown and told the crowd through a megaphone that “there is something better on the other side of this.”

“We are in the midst of a movement in this country,” she said. “But it’s going to be incumbent upon all of us to be able to get together and articulate more than our anger. We got to be able to articulate what we want as our solutions.”