MINNEAPOLIS — Protesters took to the streets across America again Sunday, with violence flaring in pockets of largely peaceful demonstrations fueled by the killings of black people at the hands of police. A truck driver — apparently deliberately — drove into demonstrators in Minneapolis nearly a week after George Floyd died there after pleading for air as an officer pressed a knee into his neck.
Protests sprang up from Boston to San Francisco, with people stealing from stores in broad daylight in Philadelphia, cities across California and elsewhere. In Minneapolis, the tanker truck sped into a peaceful crowd of thousands on a closed highway, but no one appeared to have been hit, authorities said.
The Minnesota State Patrol tweeted that the driver was apparently trying to provoke protesters and was arrested. Protesters swarmed the truck and jumped on the hood, even as it kept moving. Police then came in force to clear the highway in the city where violence erupted after the death last week of Floyd, who was black. The protests quickly spread to dozens of cities large and small, and have lasted for days.
The officer who pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for several minutes has been charged with murder, but protesters demand the other three officers at the scene be prosecuted. All four were fired.
“We’re not done,” said Darnella Wade, organizer for Black Lives Matter in neighboring St. Paul, where thousands gathered peacefully in front of the state Capitol. “They sent us the military, and we only asked them for arrests.”
Minnesota’s governor brought in thousands of National Guard soldiers to help quell violence that had damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings in Minneapolis over days of protests. The immense deployment appeared to have worked Saturday night, when there was comparatively little destruction.
On Sunday, in a display of force, long lines of state patrolmen and National Guard soldiers were lined up in front of the Capitol, facing the demonstrators, with perhaps a dozen military-style armored vehicles behind them.
For a second day, the protests reached to the White House, where chants could be heard from around 1,000 demonstrators just across the street in Lafayette Park as they faced police in riot gear behind barricades. The scene was defiant but peaceful, though police used flash bangs to stop another group from reaching the park.
As the protests grew, President Donald Trump retweeted conservative commentator Buck Sexton who called for “overwhelming force.”
Outside the White House, Gabrielle Labrosse-Ellis, 30, from Maryland, held a sign that said, “Humanize black lives.”
“This is unacceptable. This is the last straw,” she said. “It has to be.”
Labrosse-Ellis said she planned to leave before dark because she feared a repeat of the violence that occurred Saturday night.
Across America, demonstrators called again for an end to police violence and many joined police in pleading for an end to the looting.Many also joined police in pleading for a stop to fires, vandalism and theft, saying it weakened calls for justice and reform.
“They keep killing our people,” said Mahira Louis, 15, who marched with her mother and several hundred others through downtown Boston. “I’m so sick and tired of it.”
Disgust over generations of racism in a country founded by slaveholders combined with a string of recent racially charged killings to stoke the anger. Adding to that was angst from months of lockdowns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt communities of color, not only in terms of infections but in job losses and economic stress.
The droves of people congregating for demonstrations threatened to trigger new outbreaks, a fact overshadowed by the boiling tensions.
“Maybe this country will get the memo that we are sick of police murdering unarmed black men,” said Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah. “Maybe the next time a white police officer decides to pull the trigger, he will picture cities burning.”
The scale of the protests, sweeping from coast to coast and unfolding on a single night, rivaled the historic demonstrations of the civil rights and Vietnam War eras.
Curfews were imposed in major cities around the U.S., including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. About 5,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen were activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C.
But still trouble flared.
There was looting on both ends of California, with video in San Jose showing several people in hoods and masks fleeing a Macy’s department store with large bags, while people in Long Beach carried away armloads of clothing and other goods from the smashed windows of stores at a shopping mall after curfew. As police moved in to try to restore order, some protesters ran in to confront the thieves and condemn them for undercutting the message of the demonstration.
In tweets Sunday, Trump blamed anarchists and the media for fueling the violence. Attorney General William Barr pointed a finger at “far left extremist” groups. Police chiefs and politicians accused outsiders of coming in and causing the problems.
At the Minneapolis intersection where Floyd was killed, people gathered with brooms and flowers, saying it was important to protect what they called a “sacred space.” The intersection was blocked with the traffic cones while a ring of flowers was laid out.
Among those descending on Minneapolis was Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown, whose killing by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, set off unrest in 2014.
“I understand what this family is feeling. I understand what this community is feeling,” he said.
In Indianapolis, two people were reported dead in bursts of downtown violence, adding to deaths reported in Detroit and Minneapolis in recent days.
Buildings around the U.S. were defaced with spray-painted messages, from the facade of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to the historic Hay-Adams hotel near the White House. Some of Floyd’s gasped last words — “I can’t breathe” — were repeated, alongside anti-police messages.
The spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, put a halt to many aspects of our everyday life. It has caused families and organizations to adapt to the situation and change their definition of “normal.”
The National Speech and Debate Association changed the way it normally handles qualifying for the national competition and the way teams will compete on the national stage. And Hastings High, a team that struggled early in the season, will be competing in this new format after qualifying for the first time in more than 20 years.
But this year’s national tournament will be unlike any before, as it will be an online tournament.
HHS coach Delta Fajardo-Norton said everyone competing in the tournament is in unfamiliar territory.
“Honestly, it’s new to pretty much everybody,” she said.
The entire season has been anything but normal for Hastings High. Fajardo-Norton said her team usually gets off to a fast start to the season, but this year it experienced some early struggles.
HHS has a debate class, so it often goes into the season a little more prepared than other teams. This year, however, HHS found itself starting out behind the competition. And those early struggles had Fajardo-Norton somewhat concerned with how the season would progress.
“In the early fall, before the season began, there were a couple of schools that decided to do pre-tournaments, novice tournaments ... I usually anticipate us doing really well at the first tournament of the season. Unfortunately, the first tournament of the season for us was not the first tournament of the season for everyone. By the time we were ready to go, everyone else had lots of experience,” she said.
But even with the slow start, the HHS team saw better results as the season went on, and soon it found itself confident and prepared to take on the competition at the national qualifying tournament.
But, in the days leading up to the tournament, competitions and social events were canceled due to the virus. And one of those competitions was the qualifier.
Rather than competing for the chance to move on to the national tournament, Hastings had to submit an application that included results and records from throughout the season. The team would be judged by its performance throughout the season rather than just at the final competition. And when Fajardo-Norton found out that her team, which had struggled at the start of the season, had earned its spot in the national competition, she was excited that its hard work to improve had paid off.
“Being able to do this by the end of the year, I was very proud of my kids because we came up as underdogs, I feel like,” she said. “I called everyone, and they were all very, very happy about the idea.”
The national tournament will be June 14-19, and Hastings High has five debaters preparing for it; they’ll be split into two categories.
In the Congress tournament, Linnea Howie and Hannah Tunks will be representing Hastings. Meanwhile, Christine and Pauline Jonglertham and Benjamin Anderson will all be competing in Worlds Schools debate competition.
Hannah and Christine are both seniors, as Christine is in her fourth year of debate and Hannah is in her third.
Linnea and Hannah will have more than 15 topics to research before the tournament, and they’ll be given fake legislation for which they will have to write outlines and give three-minute speeches on the topic. Hastings is just one of hundreds of teams competing in a tournament field that eventually will be whittled down to six to eight teams before a winner is declared.
As for the Worlds Schools competition, Fajardo-Norton said some of the topics to be studied are sent out to the qualifiers, but there are also some that will be a surprise until the tournament.
“They’re basically ready to debate half of the topics, then they get a random topic and get an hour to prep. So, one round you know what you’re talking about and the next you have no clue,” she said. “Of the five members, three of them get up and do the talking. Each of them specializes in a specific topic, so they can switch out who does the speaking and who does the research and backup work.”
The Worlds team is actually combined with schools from Lincoln. Lincoln East coach John Holen looked at each debater’s application and assembled two teams of five — including the HHS trio — to send to nationals.
Like the season, preparation for the national tournament has been anything but normal, as Fajardo-Norton has had to hold practice with her students virtually.
“What I’m doing, is I’m doing Zoom with my debaters; they know how to write speeches and how to deliver their speeches, so really what we need to focus on is their visual performances. Any practice I’m doing with Congress is going to focus on their non-verbals and their volume and things like that,” she said.
It hasn’t been officially announced that the tournament will be conducted via Zoom, but officials did recommend using the platform when training for the competition.
The tournament will be streamed online at speechanddebate.org/live.
Hastings High’s first national qualification in two-plus decades accompanied some other individual accolades from this season.
Christine Jonglertham received Superior Distinction from the National Speech and Debate Association — a recognition that hasn’t been awarded to a Hastings High debater since 2005 — and she also was named Academic All-American.
In addition, Fajardo-Norton, who is in her 17th year as the HHS coach, was named Nebraska South District Coach of the Year.
Fajardo-Norton said Hastings High Activities Director Tracy Douglas received NSDA Activities Director of the Year honors, as well, and added that Douglas has been a huge part in keeping the HHS debate team active while other schools are seeing their programs diminish or even discontinued.
“We’re basically the only debate team left west of Lincoln, and Tracy has done so much to keep us going,” the HHS debate coach said. “I wrote that recommendation for what she did for us; she does a lot for us to keep our time alive.”