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.
Many of the protests were more subdued for a second night as marches Thursday turned into memorials for Floyd, who was the focus of a heartfelt tribute Thursday 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.
At demonstration sites around the country, protesters 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 recognize their message; and the realization 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, protesters 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 protesters hadn’t got what they wanted. And 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 Rev. Al Sharpton urged those gathered Thursday “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 alleged 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 Floyd 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 protester Kenyata Taylor.