After days of raucous protests accompanied by sporadic violence and scattered looting that led to deployment of the National Guard, Los Angeles, San Francisco and most other cities in California anxiously lifted curfews Thursday amid more peaceful demonstrations.
“I’m a little scared about that,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said about ending the five-night order. “But sometimes fear is what you’ve got to do.”
Curfews were imposed for several days in many cities — some as early as 1 p.m. — after a weekend of mayhem that unfolded across the state during or following protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Cities were criticized for taking the rare step to force residents to stay home and then use the order to arrest thousands of peaceful protesters who stayed after the curfew. Sacramento, which had been reluctant to impose a curfew, chose to keep its order in place.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued Los Angeles and the city of San Bernardino on behalf of Black Lives Matter on Wednesday for suppressing First Amendment guarantees to political protest and freedom of movement, applauded the end of the order.
“We have the right to march, we have the right to speak out, and not just on the government’s timetable,” Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-LA, said in a statement.
The ACLU said it was pleased those cities dropped their curfews, but they sent a letter demanding Sacramento do the same. The state capital, which had been reluctant to impose a curfew, chose to keep its order in place after downtown businesses were tagged with graffiti and had their windows shattered.
Passionate protesters continued to call for racial justice Thursday in symbolic acts of remembrance for Floyd on the day his funeral was held in Minnesota.
Dozens of demonstrators laid on the ground outside South San Francisco police headquarters with their hands behind their backs and chanted “I can’t breathe,” the dying words of Floyd, a black man whose neck was pinned to the ground by the knee of a white police officer now charged with murder.
In the middle of a California Senate hearing, lawmakers paused to observe 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence to mark Floyd’s death.
Outside LA City Hall, a crowd of hundreds went silent and dropped a knee in a gesture that has come to mark the movement galvanized by Floyd’s death.
Billy Black, who joined the crowd in the hot sun, said the recent calm of the protests helped lure him out to lend his voice after being concerned over the weekend by 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.
The 25-year-old African American echoed the words of many who have emphasized how peaceful most of the demonstrations have been and urged news media to “shine a light on the more positive messages out here, about peace, about justice, instead of focusing on the looting, the violence.”
Police have blamed the thefts on organized groups of criminals and stressed that the protesters were not responsible.
Protesters have called for prosecuting police brutality and, in the case of LA, even defunding the police department.
Garcetti reversed course Wednesday on plans to boost police funding and outlined a plan to shift $250 million in the city budget to address what he called structural black racism and related issues, including funds for youth employment, health care and housing.
“Your tax dollars should go towards erasing trauma, not causing it,” Garcetti said at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Police have been injured in the protests, including a Los Angeles officer who was hospitalized after his skull was fractured with a brick, and others pelted with rocks and bottles. But protesters have complained of being roughed up and shot with non-lethal rubber bullets.
A group of state lawmakers on Thursday said they would introduce legislation for when such ammo could be used.
“Breaking a city-imposed curfew is not a sufficient basis for use of rubber bullets,” said Assemblywoman Gonzalez, D-San Diego. “Crowd control where there is no rioting is not proper grounds to use rubber bullets.”