WASHINGTON (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across America again Sunday, with peaceful demonstrations against police killings of black people overshadowed by unrest that ravaged cities from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and flared near the White House.
City and state officials deployed thousands of National Guard soldiers, enacted strict curfews and shut down mass transit systems to slow protesters’ movements, but that did little to stop parts of many cities from again erupting into mayhem.
Protesters in Philadelphia hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, officials said, while thieves in more than 20 California cities smashed their way into businesses and ran off with as much as they could carry — boxes of sneakers, armloads of clothes, and cellphones, TVs and other electronics.
In Minneapolis, a tanker truck driver drove into a massive crowd of demonstrators nearly a week after the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air as an officer pressed a knee into his neck. No protesters appeared to be injured, and the driver was arrested.
Tensions spiked outside the White House, the scene of three days of demonstrations, where police fired tear gas and stun grenades into a crowd of more than 1,000 chanting protesters across the street in Lafayette Park. The crowd ran away and piled up road signs and plastic barriers to light a raging fire in a nearby street. Some pulled an American flag from a building and threw it into the blaze.
A building in the park with bathrooms and a maintenance office went up in flames and people broke into banks and jewelry stores. As demonstrations persisted past curfew, Washington police said they were responding to multiple fires set around the capital.
The entire Washington, D.C., National Guard — roughly 1,700 soldiers — was called in to help control the protests, according to two Defense Department officials who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
As the protests grew, President Donald Trump retweeted conservative commentator Buck Sexton who called for “overwhelming force” against violent demonstrators.
Secret Service agents had rushed Trump to a White House bunker on Friday night as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the executive mansion, some of them throwing rocks and tugging at police barricades. The president spent nearly an hour in the bunker designed for use in emergencies like terrorist attacks, according to a Republican close to the White House who was not authorized to publicly discuss private matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. The account was confirmed by an administration official who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, visited the site of protests in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, and talked to some of the demonstrators. He also wrote a post on Medium expressing empathy for those despairing about the killing of George Floyd.
At least 4,400 people have been arrested over days of protests, according to a tally compiled by The Associated Press. Arrests ranged from stealing and blocking highways to breaking curfew.
In Salt Lake City, an activist leader condemned the destruction of property but said broken buildings shouldn’t be mourned on the same level as black men like Floyd.