Echoes of Northern Ireland Troubles for expats living in US as protests and civil strife escalate
A Belfast man and former member of the church that US President Donald Trump staged his Bible photo op stunt has said it came as a complete surprise to some in the congregation.
People from Northern Ireland living in US cities rocked by clashes in the wake of George Floyd's killing have told of their shock as violence flares on the streets of a divided America.
Michael McDowell (68), originally from south Belfast, lives just outside Washington DC in Chestertown, Maryland, with his wife Susan. He has been in America for over 40 years.
The McDowells were members of St John's Episcopal Church, where Donald Trump posed with a Bible after demonstrators were cleared from his path. The stunt has been slammed by religious leaders.
Mr McDowell said: "We were members of that church for 30 years. My wife and I got married there and we held a memorial for our son Conor, a marine officer who was killed during training, at our church.
"It is a very important church because it is across from the White House and it's progressive. It's called the 'Church of the Presidents' because every President has gone there.
"I have been talking to friends at the church and know that the clergy, the rector and others attached to the church, were operating a stand with cold water bottles and helping with some of the Black Lives Matter medical aid people, and when Trump decided to do his photo op stunt they were taken completely by surprise - indeed, some of them were caught up in the tear gas."
He added: "In our small college town we had a demonstration on Sunday. We feel angry about the death of George Floyd.
West Belfast man Sean McCarthy (32), who works for Irish Born Hospitality, lives in downtown Minneapolis, which is at the heart of the disturbances.
His home is minutes from where Mr Floyd died on May 25.
"I've been there since day one. The rioting is everywhere. It started up on Lake, it came downtown and now is in uptown. That is the problem that the cops are having, they can't contain it," he said.
"It's not a normal protest, normal destruction. It's everywhere."
Mr McCarthy said the protests are right outside his door.
"George Floyd was killed just minutes from where I live. I went there the next day and was able to leave flowers, and I have been out on the protests since," he said.
"Minneapolis has a lot of diversity. There are a huge amount of Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans especially in the area where George Floyd died. It is a lower-income area of town."
Londonderry woman Maria Friel (46) lives in the Bronx in New York with her daughter Rionach (9). She works in Rory Dolan's Irish Bar and Restaurant in Yonkers and says looters struck in her neighbourhood.
She described the atmosphere as "very scary", adding: "It reminds me of the Troubles at home - the rioting, the petrol bombs, throwing bricks at the police. I grew up in Creggan and on a Saturday night I would see rioting in the town centre. There was always something that would start.
"But I don't know what is going to happen here in America. To have it all on your own doorstep is really scary."
Ms Friel said there is a fear in the community revolving around racial tensions and the street disturbances.
She added: "We were very unsettled last night watching the television, and then to wake up to this this morning, it's not good. God knows what we will wake up to tomorrow."
Editor and writer Malcolm McDowell Woods (61), also originally from Derry, lives in Milwaukee with his partner Nicola.
"It's really wild here. I remember going home to visit family in Derry in the 1980s and hearing the helicopter constantly in the sky. It's the same here now," he said.
"There was outrage over the George Floyd incident and there has been outrage since about the heavy-handed approach of law enforcement. We're seeing overreactions by the police, which are escalating the situation, rather than calming it.
"The other thing to note is the targeting of the Press by police. This is unconscionable and a blatant disregard for the First Amendment (of the US Constitution) and is terribly worrying.
"There is fear and anger on the ground."