Violent clashes over custody death, not in Newark

New Jersey’s state capital is on lockdown with a 7 p.m. curfew. Sunday night, Trenton officers saw their vehicles go up in flames. Hours earlier, the same officers went to their knees in solidarity with protesters a week after a Minneapolis officer’s knee seemed to squeeze the life out of a handcuffed George Floyd.

“I can’t breathe” become a rallying cry across America – along with dozens of arrests.

In Atlantic City, a peaceful protest became physical — leading to clashes with riot-gear-wearing officers and looting of stores. The mayor has imposed a week-long, nightly curfew and police urged the public to avoid the city.

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, looked like anything but that with looting, language unfit for TV, and a long night of unrest that left more than a dozen officers injured.

Across the Delaware in Camden, county police marched with protesters against racism.

In Newark over the weekend, a young crowd yanked a flag down in Military Park, stomped it and then burned it. There was no battle line of officers in riot gear and very little social distancing. Instead, police officers escorted the People’s Organization for Progress’ march through downtown.

“We’re going to take our anger and our indignation and turn it in to energy to put together a force for the abolition of police brutality,” said People’s Organization for Progress Chair Larry Hamm.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka walked behind a “Justice for George Floyd” banner.

“It’s time for the good officers to be good officers. Those officers who were with him should have locked him up on the spot, picked him up and marched his ass to the precinct,” Baraka said.

Baraka and Hamm urged anyone itching for trouble to leave. This city knows trouble all too well. In the summer of 1967 two white officers beat black cab driver John Smith. It touched off five days of rioting that killed 26 people, including a police officer and a firefighter and bloodied the mayor’s father, Amiri Baraka.

The struggle five-plus decades ago included oversight of police conduct. Just last month in a virtual hearing, the state supreme court took up the police union’s challenge of Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board and whether it should have the power to subpoena officers.

“Send them that video and hopefully they have a conscience to vote for a Civilian Complaint Review Board because the police can’t police themselves,” Baraka said.

The march included a sea of diversity but with one universal message: a quest for justice.

“We got to hold police accountable. We got to hold people accountable for the killings and the non-valuing of lives,” said one protester named Brian.

Before the rally, 38-year-old Mustafa Shabazz and his 3-year-old son Mushsin heard the mayor at city hall condemn what happened to George Floyd.

“When you constantly see stuff like that you wonder what the future is going to be for your son. You start to build a hatred for police when you constantly see them killing us,” the Newark resident said.

What will he tell his son about the police?

“I’ll tell him that there’s some good and there’s some bad. Just be cautious. Whenever you’re in contact with the cops, just be cautious because you never know,” Shabazz said.

Caution went to the wind in New York’s SOHO neighborhood overnight as looters gutted luxury stores along Broadway after a day of peaceful protests. Police blamed outside agitators. It’s a familiar theme seen across the country, but not in Miami. When police saw protesters coming, they got on their knees. The crowd cried and did the same and the two groups embraced.

But, from the White House, criticism calling governors “weak” for not quelling the violence as the National Guard prepares to meet protesters in the streets.