New York
Reuters

A relaxed confidence infused a new round of street protests in New York and other major cities on Sunday, a day after some of the largest demonstrations since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody unfolded with no major violence.

The near-festive tone of many of the weekend's major US rallies stood in sharp contrast to scenes of clashes, looting and vandalism earlier in the week that authorities and activists blamed largely on outside agitators and criminals.

Protests Washington DC

People walk on a Black Lives Matter sign painted on the street as they protest the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, near the White House in Washington, US, on 7th June, 2020. PICTURE: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

The outpouring of outrage and demands for sweeping police reforms followed the 25th May killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after being pinned by the neck for nine minutes by a white officer's knee. A bystander's cellphone captured the scene as Floyd pleaded with the officer, choking out the words "I can't breathe." Two other policemen helped hold Floyd down while a fourth stood watch between onlookers and the other officers.

Almost two weeks of US demonstrations also inspired anti-racism marches around the globe, as protesters from Brisbane and Sydney in Australia to London, Paris and other European cities embraced the Black Lives Matter message.

Protests UK Parliament Square

A demonstrator puts a sign on a fence in Parliament Square during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, London, Britain, on 7th June. PICTURE: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

PROTESTS ROLL ON AGAINST 'WORLDWIDE' RACISM

Demonstrators in Rome held their fists in the air and chanted "No Justice! No Peace!" on Sunday, while in London people defying official warnings not to gather lay down outside the US Embassy as part of a rolling, global anti-racism movement.

In Belgium, police fired tear gas and used a water cannon to disperse about a hundred protesters in a central part of Brussels with many African shops and restaurants. Some protesters were subsequently arrested.

They were part of a crowd of about 10,000 who had gathered at the Palace of Justice, many wearing face masks and carrying banners with the phrase "Black Lives Matter - Belgium to Minneapolis", "I can’t breathe" and "Stop killing black people".

“Black Lives Matter is not only about police violence. Here, we experience discrimination that other races do not experience. For example, if we start looking for a flat to rent, we have difficulties. Regarding employment, we are disadvantaged. So it's not only about police violence,” said 25-year-old insurance broker Randy Kayembe. 

The second weekend of demonstrations showed the depth of feeling worldwide over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May after a white officer detaining him knelt on his neck. More protests were also planned across the United States.

In London, where tens of thousands gathered, one banner read: "UK guilty too." 

Footage posted on social media showed demonstrators in Bristol in western England cheering as they tore down a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader, and pushed it into a river.

Chaniya La Rose, a 17-year-old student at the London protest with her family, said an end to inequality was long overdue. "It just needs to stop now," she said. "It shouldn't have to be this hard to be equal." 

Health minister Matt Hancock had earlier said that joining the Black Lives Matter protests risked contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.

London police chief Cressida Dick said 27 officers had been injured in assaults during protests this week in the city, including 14 on Saturday at the end of a peaceful demonstration.

In Italy, where several thousand people gathered in Rome's Piazza del Popolo, speakers called out racism at home, in the United States and elsewhere.

US embassies were the focus of protests elsewhere in Europe, with more than 10,000 gathering in the Danish capital Copenhagen, hundreds in Budapest and thousands in Madrid, where they lined the street guarded by police in riot gear.

"I really think we need to finish with the institutional racism that is actually international," said Gloria Envivas, 24, an English teacher in the Spanish capital. 

"It's not something that is only going on in the USA or in Europe, it's also worldwide."

In Thailand, people held an online demonstration on the video platform Zoom, due to restrictions on movement to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"Everyone has hopes, everyone has dreams, everyone bleeds red, you know," said Natalie Bin Narkprasert, an organiser of the Thai protest.

Like many people around the world, the group observed a silence in memory of Floyd, in this case, for eight minutes and 46 seconds - the period he was pinned under the officer's knee - to know "how it feels".

Reuters

The change in the tenor of the demonstrations this weekend may reflect a sense that the demands of protesters for sweeping police reform are resonating.

In a step that would have seemed unthinkable just two weeks ago, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged on Sunday to disband the police department in favor of a community-led safety model, the New York Times reported. 

"A veto-proof majority of the MPLS City Council just publicly agreed that the Minneapolis Police Department is not reformable and that we're going to end the current policing system," Alondra Cano, a member of the Minneapolis council, said on Twitter.

In New York, at least half a dozen loosely organised groups of protesters marched through midtown Manhattan in bright sunshine on Sunday afternoon carrying handmade signs with slogans including "Defund the Police, Fund Schools." One crowd gathered in Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library, then marched down 42nd Street past Grand Central station to UN headquarters on the East River.

Another group marched toward Times Square but was turned aside without incident by police who blocked access to the famous "Crossroads of the World," best known for the annual New Year's Eve ball drop. The area remained cordoned off by police hours later. 

It was a far cry from the scene in the city on some recent nights, when some officers in riot gear resorted to heavy-handed tactics as they sought to enforce a curfew, and live TV images showed looters running rampant on main avenues.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the curfew was being lifted on Sunday, a day ahead of schedule.

Criticized by activists who say he should have reined in NYPD officers during recent demonstrations, he also announced a series of reforms he said were designed to build trust between city residents and the police department.

In response to growing calls to defund police in many cities, de Blasio told reporters he would shift an unspecified amount of money out of the police budget and reallocate it to youth and social services in communities of color. 

He said he would also take enforcement of rules on street vending out of the hands of police, who have been accused of using the regulations to harass minority communities.

Signs on the White House fence
In the nation's capital on Sunday afternoon, thousands of protesters took a knee on 16th Street facing the White House, chanting: "I can't breathe," according to social media posts. 

The newly erected fence around the White House was decorated by protesters with signs, including some that read: "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice, No Peace." 

A common theme of weekend rallies was a determination to transform outrage over Floyd's death last month into a broader movement seeking far-reaching reforms to the US criminal justice system and its treatment of minorities.

The intensity of protests over the past week began to ebb on Wednesday after prosecutors in Minneapolis arrested all four police officers implicated in Floyd's death. Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneed Floyd, was charged with second-degree murder.

Still, anger in Minneapolis remained intense. The city's mayor ran a gauntlet of jeering protesters on Saturday after telling them he opposed their demands for defunding the city police department.

During a community meeting in a park, nine of the 13 City Council members signed a pledge on Sunday promising to create a new public safety system, work with the community on changes and adopt the changes through budget and policy actions in the coming weeks, the New York Times reported.

The renewed calls for racial equality are breaking out across the country as the United States reopens after weeks of unprecedented lockdowns for the coronavirus pandemic and just five months before the 3rd November presidential election.

US Democrats have largely embraced the activists packing into streets to decry the killings of black men and women by law enforcement, but have so far expressed wariness at protesters' calls to defund the police.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey told NBC News on Sunday that he understood the sentiment behind the "defund the police" push but would not use that phrase himself.

- With reporting by SUSAN HEAVEY, SCOTT MALONE, and TED HESSON in Washington and SINEAD CAREW in New York