Amidst the cries for justice, the violent clashes with police, the burning of squad cars and the looting of businesses across the country, protesters like Arianna Evans took to the streets to denounce what they say have been years of racial injustice and brutality at the hands of law enforcement that has reached an American boiling point.
Outside the White House, where Secret Service agents battled with angry demonstrators to keep them from breaching the fence, Evans demanded justice over a megaphone. At the same time, she shouted down the more militant protesters bent on causing destruction and fueling the chaos that ignited with the death in Minneapolis of African American George Floyd and the viral images of a white police officer pressing his knee against the back of his neck as he cried out "I can't breathe."
“I understand the need, the urge, the feeling to be violent and to just act, but we cannot progress if we do not sit down, come to the table, and get organized," Evans, a student from Washington D.C., told ABC News outside the wrought iron fence of the White House on Saturday night.
"That's all we can do at this point is organize, but if we keep just doing all of this, it's not gonna do anything but give them an excuse to keep shooting us in the street,” she said of the protesters who took out their frustrations by throwing projectiles at police, setting fires or looting businesses in cities across the country over the weekend.
Through tears, Evans said the protesters are calling for financial and educational equality, and for "a level playing field" to strive for their American dreams.
“All we're asking for is to be able to do the same thing that you get to do every day and walk outside of your house and know that maybe without ... any other extenuating circumstances," Evans, who is African American, said referring to white people. “Someday, I'll have a black son, and maybe one day a white cop will see him, and be scared out in front of a store, and shoot him... This is a problem that we need to fix. Right now, because if we do not, we're never going to get anywhere as a country.”
Protester Olga Hall told reporters that she joined the demonstrations in Washington D.C. for one simple reason: “We’re sick of it."
"The cops are out of control,” Hall said. “They’re wild. There have just been too many dead boys.”
In New York City, 22-year-old Chi Osee, told ABC News he's "fighting for police to be accountable."
"We’re fighting for black people to be treated as human," he said.
Protests over Floyd's May 25 death erupted in violence in Minneapolis and quickly spread to major cities across the nation.
Minnesota prosecutors and police officials moved swiftly to fire Derek Chauvin, the officer seen in a viral video with his knee on Floyd's neck, and charge him with third-degree murder. Three other Minneapolis police officers, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who were also involved in the incident and terminated from the police force.
But protesters coast to coast and the family of Floyd, 47, are calling for charges against Chauvin to be increased to first- or second-degree murder and for the other officers to be charged as accessories to the killing.
The National Guard has been activated in Washington, D.C., and 17 states: Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, Utah, North Dakota, California, Missouri, Virginia, Kansas, Illinois and Nevada. Demonstrations have also occurred beyond the United States in London and Hong Kong.
Nearly 1,700 people in 22 cities have been arrested since Thursday, with roughly a third of those occurring in Los Angeles, according to an Associated Press tally.
"The situation in Minneapolis is no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd. It is about attacking civil society, instilling fear and disrupting our great cities," Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz, a Democrat, said at a news conference on Saturday.
Police officers have used tear gas, rubber bullets and brute force in attempts to disperse unruly crowds, and come officers have come under scrutiny for allegedly attacking people who were protesting peacefully.
Authorities have also claimed that agitators have crossed state lines to wreak havoc.
“The voices of peaceful protests are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said in a televised statement at the Department of Justice on Saturday.
“Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda," Barr added. "In many places it appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups, far-left extremist groups using Antifa-like tactics, many of whom traveled from outside the state to promote the violence.”
But protesters like Michael Santiago Render, a rapper better known by his stage name Killer Mike, said he is the son of an Atlanta police officer and was among those protesting in the streets of Georgia's largest city.
Render spoke out on Friday at a news conference with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the city's police Chief Erika Shields.
He said the original eight black officers in Atlanta 80 years ago had to dress in a YMCA because their white colleagues refused to dress with them.
“Here we are 80 years later, I watched a white officer assassinate a black man and I know that tore your heart out and I know that’s crippling," he said referring to the killing of Floyd.
He called on demonstrators to practice peaceful civil disobedience while calling for justice for Floyd and other African Americans whose deaths at the hands of U.S. police have resulted in the powder keg that is exploding in the streets of American cities.
"I have nothing positive to say at this moment because I don’t want to be here," Killer Mike said. "But I’m responsible to be here because it wasn’t just Dr. King and people who dressed nicely who marched and protested to progress this city and so many cities, it was people like my grandmother, people like my aunt.
“I’m duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy," he added. "It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you might be a house or refuge in times of organization, and now is the time to plot, plan, strategized, organize and mobilize. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs. Atlanta is not perfect, but we are a lot better than we ever were.
In Los Angeles, where protests have devolved into rioting and looting, prompting Mayor Eric Garcetti to impose an 8 p.m. curfew and ask Gov. Gavin Newsom to bring in the National Guard to restore order, one young African American woman holding a sign reading "No Justice, No peace" and wearing a face mask to help reduce the spread of coronavirus was unapologetic about the destruction she was witnessing.
“The message that I want to get out is there is that there is a huge difference in America between white Americans and black Americans. They are treated very differently. And although I do not want white Americans to experience what we have experienced from the police, I want the police to come to an agreement with us to give us the same opportunity to have the same protection from them that white Americans have," the protester, who would only identify herself as Jane Doe told ABC station KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
"We only want to be treated like people. That’s it," she said, adding that she was born and raised in Los Angeles, is a law-abiding citizen with a college education and no criminal record. "Police brutality is out of control. When a black person gets abused by the police it’s like OK, whatever, we have to riot. I saw a white woman punch a police officer and they so kindly asked her to detain herself until she fell and tripped and they zipped tied her. But a black man jaywalking is going to get pulled over and thrown to the ground. That’s not OK."
Asked if she was heartbroken over the destruction occurring in her city, she said, "the damage is necessary."
"You know why? Because this is how we feel every day walking down the street. We don’t get to see the beautiful buildings that everybody else gets to see. We get to feel like we don’t belong there. We get to feel like trash. We get to feel like garbage. We get to feel like we can’t come here," she said.
"But we came here today because we want to be part of it. And if they don’t want us to be part of it, we want you to see what our reality is like," she said. "This is what we feel like when we walk down the streets. I’m afraid every time a police officer drives past me. Listen, it breaks my heart every day that I have to be afraid for my little brother and I have to be afraid for my little nephew. That breaks my heart."