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Calm returns to US amid peaceful protests

Curfews imposed during recent race protests have been lifted, but Covid-19 concerns remain.

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Protesters march through the streets of Manhattan on Sunday amid largely peaceful race demonstrations as the city’s curfew was lifted (Seth Wenig/AP)

Protesters march through the streets of Manhattan on Sunday amid largely peaceful race demonstrations as the city’s curfew was lifted (Seth Wenig/AP)

Protesters march through the streets of Manhattan on Sunday amid largely peaceful race demonstrations as the city’s curfew was lifted (Seth Wenig/AP)

With New York City poised to reopen after more than two months in coronavirus shutdown, officials on Sunday lifted a curfew imposed amid protests of police brutality and racial injustice.

But fearing a spike in virus cases caused by those mass gatherings, officials also urged that demonstrators be tested for Covid-19.

“Get a test. Get a test,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo told those who have been participating in rallies and marches in memory of George Floyd.

“I would act as if you were exposed, and I would tell people you are interacting with, assume I am positive for the virus.”

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Local religious leaders hold a banner as they march through the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn (Kathy Willens/AP)

Local religious leaders hold a banner as they march through the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn (Kathy Willens/AP)

AP/PA Images

Local religious leaders hold a banner as they march through the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn (Kathy Willens/AP)

Mr Cuomo said the state would open 15 testing sites dedicated to protesters so they could access results quickly.

His call for demonstrators to proceed carefully is similar to those made in Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta following massive demonstrations, with free testing for protesters.

New York has been the epicentre of the US outbreak, with black communities hit especially hard.

The Reverend Brandon Watts, of Epiphany Church in Brooklyn, was mindful of the pandemic while organising a “Pray & Protest” march with several other churches.

He mandated that protesters wear masks, and he came with boxes of them. Attendees also were offered free coronavirus tests at one church.

“Covid-19 hit the inner city harder than anybody else,” Rev Watts said. “And so we have to be very careful. We’re the only ones in a pandemic within a pandemic.”

In addition to suffering disproportionately from the the virus, the black community also has been inflamed by the death of Mr Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck while arresting him in Minneapolis.

Mr Floyd’s death sparked massive protests throughout the country and renewed calls to reform policing in America. A majority of the City Council in Minneapolis said on Sunday they supported disbanding the city’s police department.

A heavy-handed police response to protesters in many places has underscored what critics have long maintained – that law enforcement is militarised and too often uses excessive force.

Cities imposed curfews as several protests last week were marred by spasms of arson, assaults and looting.

More than 10,000 people have been arrested around the US since protests began, sometimes after violent confrontations with officers.

Videos have surfaced of officers in riot gear using tear gas or physical force against even peaceful demonstrators.

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Members of the Compton Cowboys join a demonstration on Sunday (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Members of the Compton Cowboys join a demonstration on Sunday (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

AP/PA Images

Members of the Compton Cowboys join a demonstration on Sunday (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

But more recent US protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, and over the weekend several police departments appeared to retreat from aggressive tactics.

Several cities have also lifted their curfews, including Chicago and New York City, which is preparing to enter its first phase of reopening after virus shutdowns. Up to 400,000 people are expected to head back to the workplace on Monday.

“Last night was the best by far,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We had the biggest number of protesters, the fewest arrests, the fewest problems and that convinced me it was time for the curfew to go away.”

In Compton, in the south of greater Los Angeles, several thousand protesters, some on horseback, peacefully demonstrated. The only law enforcement presence comprised around a dozen sheriff’s deputies, who watched without engaging.

A similar scene played out on Saturday when thousands of protesters converged on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Tow trucks held off car traffic, and police directed vehicles caught in the middle to go around protesters.

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Other demonstrators in Compton preferred motorbikes (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Other demonstrators in Compton preferred motorbikes (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

AP/PA Images

Other demonstrators in Compton preferred motorbikes (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

For the first time since protests began in New York more than a week ago, most police officers in the city were not wearing riot helmets as they watched over marches and rallies.

Police moved the barricades at the Trump hotel at Columbus Circle in Manhattan for protesters and replaced them when they passed through the area.

Mayor de Blasio said police had arrested just four people and issued 24 court summonses on Saturday — in stark contrast to more than 2,000 arrests made through Friday morning.

Even at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the site of numerous clashes between protesters and police, officers stood by casually as hundreds gathered to observe a moment of silence for George Floyd. Some officers even shook hands and posed for photos with motorcyclists at the rally.

In Washington, DC, National Guard troops from South Carolina were seen checking out of their hotel on Sunday soon before President Donald Trump tweeted he was giving the order to withdraw them from the capital.

At the newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, protesters posed with the street sign and the yellow block lettering painted on the pavement by the city. As ice cream truck jingles mixed with protest chats, the district’s Metropolitan Police Department patrolled.

At Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR paused before Sunday’s Cup race to acknowledge the nationwide protests – a remarkable moment for the sport with its roots in the South and one-time embrace of Confederate symbols.

Meanwhile, Mr Floyd’s body arrived in Texas for a third and final memorial service. A viewing is planned for Monday in Houston, the city where Mr Floyd was raised, followed by a service and burial on Tuesday.

PA