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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Demonstrators vow to sustain momentum until change happens

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By SUDHIN THANAWALA and BRIAN MAHONEY Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Protesters stirred by the death of George Floyd vowed Friday to turn an extraordinary outpouring of grief into a sustained movement as demonstrations shifted to a calmer, but no less determined, focus on addressing racial injustice.

In Minneapolis, where Floyd died in police custody, the city agreed to ban police chokeholds and require officers to intervene any time they see unauthorized force by another officer. The changes are part of a stipulation between the city and state officials who launched a civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death. The City Council is expected to approve the agreement, which will be enforceable in court, later Friday.

By early afternoon, demonstrations resumed for an 11th day around the country with continued momentum as the mood of the protests largely shifted from explosive anger to more peaceful calls for change. Formal and impromptu memorials to Floyd stretched from Minneapolis to North Carolina, where family were gathering Saturday to mourn him, and beyond. Services were planned in Texas for the following week.

Josiah Roebuck, a Kennesaw State University student and organizer of a demonstration that drew about 100 people Friday in an Atlanta suburb, said he was confident that momentum will be maintained.

“Once you start, you’re going to see this every day,” said Roebuck, who said he attended multiple other Atlanta-area protests. He added: “I just want minorities to be represented properly.”

Organizers have used various organizing tools including social media, which Roebuck said he used to gather people for the demonstration outside a Kennesaw store selling Confederate memorabilia. “Social media is a big influencer today,” he said.

Protests around the country had initially been marred by the setting of fires and smashing of windows, but Friday marked at least the third day of more subdued demonstrations, including a  heartfelt tribute to Floyd Thursday in Minneapolis  that drew family members, celebrities, politicians and civil rights advocates. At the service, strong calls were made for meaningful changes in policing and the criminal justice system.

And in a sign the protesters’ voices were being heard, more symbols of slavery and the Confederacy came down. Alabama’s port city of Mobile removed a statue of a Confederate naval officer early Friday after days of protests there, while Fredericksburg, Virginia, removed a 176-year-old slave auction block from downtown after several years of efforts by the NAACP. Other Confederate symbols have come down around the South in recent days as calls to remove them intensified during protests over Floyd’s death.

Also Friday, in Jacksonville, Florida, a large group of players, coaches, front office officials from the city’s NFL team and their families wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts as they walked to the sheriff’s office to raise awareness of racial injustice.

Community activists are working to convert anger and grief into long-term action. Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward circulated a sign-up sheet at a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, protest that drew 1,500 names of people who want to stay involved. The group followed up with each person this week suggesting simple actions such as emailing or calling to demand local change.

“We are taking more of the strategy of: ‘How do we actually invest people’s energy beyond protesting?,'” said Tifanny Burks, a community organizer. “We are thinking long term.”

This weekend, they are building an altar at a church with the names of victims killed by local police and having their family members speak. On Monday, they plan to host a workshop to help people engage at the local level, including mobilizing in the upcoming election for sheriff and prosecutor.

“Every single day it’s growing from people who want to get more involved, who want to take more actions, so we’re going to be mobilizing those folks,” Burks said.

At demonstrations around the country, protesters said the quieter mood was the result of factors including the new and upgraded criminal charges against the officers involved in Floyd’s death and a more conciliatory approach by police who have marched with them or taken a knee to recognize their message.

Still, there were skirmishes in the Bronx borough of New York City and elsewhere Thursday. In Buffalo, a police commissioner suspended two officers after video from WBFO showed a 75-year-old man being shoved after walking up to police as they were enforcing a curfew Thursday night. The man appeared to hit his head on the pavement and was bleeding as officers walked past. The man was hospitalized.

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.

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

In Los Angeles, Billy Black, a 25-year-old African American attending a demonstration at City Hall on Thursday, said the recent calm of the protests helped lure him out to lend his voice after being concerned in previous days over 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.

___

Mahoney reported from New York. AP journalists contributed reporting from around the United States.

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