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Protests more subdued after new charges in George Floyd case

Demonstrations in cities across the U.S. to condemn racism and police abuses remained large but turned notably more subdued on the eve of a Thursday memorial service for George Floyd, which kicks off a series of events to mourn the man whose death empowered a national movement.

The calmer protests came on the same day that prosecutors charged three more police officers and filed a new, tougher charge against the officer at the centre of the case.

The most serious new charge Wednesday was an accusation of second-degree murder against Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck. The three other officers at the scene were charged for the first time with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to four decades in prison.

The move by prosecutors punctuated an unprecedented week in modern American history, in which largely peaceful protests took place in communities of all sizes but were rocked by bouts of violence, including deadly attacks on officers, rampant thefts and arson in some places.

Across the U.S., more than 10,000 people have been arrested in connection with unrest, a tally by The Associated Press shows. More than a dozen deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.

Protests still large

Protests were still big but largely peaceful in California, where NBA stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson marched with protesters in Oakland.

Some demonstrators lay down to represent the amount of time the white police officer pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck while he pleaded for air. But police kept a mainly hands-off policy during the day even after curfews took effect.

Watch | Upgraded, additional charges for police officers in George Floyd’s death:

Derek Chauvin now faces a second-degree murder charge in George Floyd’s death and three other officers are charged with aiding and abetting a murder as protests continue. 1:57

The first of three memorial gatherings for the man whose name has been chanted by hundreds of thousands of people was planned Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis at a service where the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader, and family attorney Ben Crump will speak.

Floyd’s body will then travel to Raeford, N.C., where he was born 46 years ago, for a public viewing and private family service Saturday.

There will be a large service Monday in Houston, where Floyd spent most of his life, and will include addresses from Sharpton, Crump, and the Rev. Remus E. Wright, the family pastor. Former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, may attend. A private burial will follow.

Crump, the family attorney, called the additional charges against the officers “a bittersweet moment” and “a significant step forward on the road to justice.”

3 officers injured in Brooklyn

After the new charges were announced, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said the state and nation need to “seize the moment” and use the wrenching events of the past week to confront the effects of racism, including unequal educational and economic opportunities.

“I think this is probably our last shot, as a state and as a nation, to fix this systemic issue,” he said.

Demonstrators use their phone lights Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles during a protest over Floyd’s death. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

Hundreds of protesters were in New York City’s Washington Square Park when the new charges were announced.

“It’s not enough,” protester Jonathan Roldan said, insisting all four officers should have been charged from the start. “Right now, we’re still marching because it’s not enough that they got arrested. There needs to be systematic change.”

But later in the day a police officer on an anti-looting patrol in Brooklyn was ambushed by a man who walked up behind him and stabbed him in the neck. That set off a struggle in which two other officers suffered gunshot injuries to their hands.

Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, counts that still stand.

The new second-degree murder charge alleges that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death without intent while committing another felony, namely third-degree assault. It carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, compared with a maximum of 25 years for third-degree murder.

The other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — face the same maximum penalties for aiding and abetting. All three men were in custody by Wednesday evening.

The multiple charges against each officer would offer a jury more options to find them guilty.

Also Wednesday, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office released the full autopsy report on Floyd, which noted he had previously tested positive for COVID-19, but was apparently asymptomatic. The report was released with the family’s permission after summary findings Monday that said he had a heart attack while being restrained by officers.

‘We are not going anywhere!’

U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed the nation’s governors to take a hard line against the violence. He again tweeted Wednesday: “LAW & ORDER!”

An overpowering security force — including officers from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons and, according to a senior defence official, at least 2,200 National Guard soldiers — was out in force Wednesday as thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated in the nation’s capital.

Watch | Protesters vow to continue fight for justice after George Floyd’s death:

After nine days of demonstrations, protesters say they’re continuing to fight for justice and not only for George Floyd. 3:11

Military vehicles were parked on streets near the White House, and an array of agencies kept watch from the air. An FBI plane, an Army surveillance plane and a Park Police helicopter circled overhead.

At one point near the White House, protesters began singing Amazing Grace as they knelt in view of law enforcement officers in riot gear. “We are not going anywhere!” they chanted. There were no signs of confrontations.

Protester Jade Jones, 30, said the demonstrations would continue despite the new charges.

“That’s the least they could do,” said Jones, who had been attending Washington protests for days. “It’s not going to wipe away 400 years of pain.”

Trump found himself embroiled in conflict on other fronts. His former defence secretary Jim Mattis ripped the president’s heavy-handed use of military force to quell protests near the White House.

In New York City, where high-end stores were looted in earlier days, some retailers fortified their property. At the luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue, windows were boarded up, then covered in chain-link fencing and razor wire. The front of the store was guarded by a line of tattooed men with dogs.

The protests have also taken root overseas, including in Athens, London, Helsinki, Rotterdam and Bogota, among other cities.

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