(Update 1 adds reports from New York City and Los Angeles, updates par 2, minor edits throughout, changes headline)
By Lucia Leal and Alfonso Fernandez
Washington DC, June 2 (efe-epa).- Protests over police brutality against African Americans gathered momentum in cities across the United States Tuesday, fueled by outrage at the president’s threat of militarization and the tactics used to clear demonstrators.
More than a week after African-American man George Floyd died at the hands of a white police officer, at least 40 cities have declared curfews and deployed members of the National Guard as protests across the country continue, although the destruction and looting of previous days seem to have subsided.
Thousands of people gathered in central Washington DC as protesters also flooded the streets of New York, Los Angeles and Houston on the eighth day of protests.
Protesters on the front line of the protests in Washington DC chanted and shouted in front of security forces deployed on the other side of a chain-link fence about 2.5 meters (8 feet) high, installed Tuesday morning along the northern edge of Lafayette Square, next to the White House.
The new fence prevented protesters from approaching the White House and occupying Lafayette Park, which on Monday was the scene of chaos as security forces dispersed protesters so that Trump could walk across the square and pose for a photo in front of a church.
The event sparked harsh criticism of the president from religious leaders, Democratic politicians, and at least one Republican senator, Ben Sasse, although the conservative majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, blocked a resolution promoted by the progressive opposition to condemn Trump.
The controversy grew when various media outlets revealed that it was US Attorney General William Barr who gave the order to federal security agents to extend the perimeter around the White House when hundreds of people were participating in a peaceful protest.
That allowed Trump to walk to the historic Saint John’s Episcopal Church, located at the other end of the park and the scene of a small fire that caused no damage on Sunday, to pose before cameras with a Bible in his hand, a gesture that many saw as little more than a wink to his voters.
The acting head of the US Park Police, Gregory Monahan, denied in a statement on Tuesday that his agents and “other assisting law enforcement partners” had used tear gas to disperse the protesters, as indicated by numerous witnesses and journalists in the area.
Monahan said that what the police used were “smoke canisters and pepper balls,” and assured that they did it to respond to the “bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” thrown at the authorities.
The event seemed to inject momentum into the protesters, who, after they were unable to approach the White House, flooded to the historic Lincoln Memorial, where the reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech “I have a dream.”
Sitting at the foot of the steps leading to the monument, the protesters remained silent and then, nearing the beginning of the 7 pm (23:00 GMT) curfew, they pronounced a prayer looking at dozens of National Guard members who watched them from the top of the stairs.
Attorney general Barr warned that the presence of federal agents would be further strengthened on Tuesday, although he did not refer to Trump’s threat to put “thousands and thousands” of military personnel onto the streets of Washington.
The Pentagon has deployed active military police and combat engineers near the capital in case it is necessary to send them into the protests, according to official sources quoted by various media.
In New York City, as the sun rose and day one of the first curfew in the last 80 years came to an end, the magnitude of damage caused by protesters on the iconic Fifth Avenue came to light.
The window displays of the street, a symbol of the opulence and power of the Big Apple, could be seen boarded up to prevent looting which have followed peaceful protests.
A few hours before the second curfew was to be enforced, central New York appeared as if the coronavirus epidemic had claimed it once again, with few vehicles or people on the streets.
The first day of the curfew saw the detention of more than 700 people in New York, the highest number since the beginning of the protests triggered by Floyd’s death in Minnesota.