Protesters in Washington toppled a statue of a Confederate general late Friday, after nationwide rallies to demand racial justice on a day heavy with symbolism – the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Demonstrations were held in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington against a backdrop of weeks of protests fueled by the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police.
In a stark illustration of the tensions roiling the nation, President Donald Trump issued a solemn White House statement commemorating Juneteenth, while also threatening protesters on Twitter ahead of his controversial rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday.
Juneteenth marks the day – June 19, 1865 – when a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas and informed slaves that they were free – two months after the Civil War had ended and two-and-a-half years after president Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The date is generally celebrated with prayer services and family gatherings, but comes this year amid a national soul-searching over America’s legacy of racial injustice.
The United States has been gripped by daily “Black Lives Matter” protests since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed by a white police officer in Minnesota.
Late on Friday a statue of Confederate general Albert Pike was torn down by demonstrators in the capital and set on fire, in an act labeled a “disgrace” by Trump.
The D.C. Police are not doing their job as they watch a statue be ripped down & burn. These people should be immediately arrested. A disgrace to our Country! @MayorBowser— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2020
“The DC police are not doing their job as they watch a statue be ripped down & burn. These people should be immediately arrested,” Trump tweeted.
Earlier, several thousand demonstrators marched across New York’s Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan, chanting the names of black men and women killed by police in recent years.
“This year the entire country has had a reckoning,” said protester Tabatha Bernard, 38, voicing support for growing calls for Juneteenth to be declared a national holiday.
“It’s up to us to keep this going until we have change.”
Protesters in Atlanta, where a police officer was charged with murder this week for shooting a black man in the back, marched on the Georgia State Capitol.
More gathered in Washington outside the Lincoln Memorial and near the White House, while thousands marched in Chicago and danced at festive rallies in South Los Angeles.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has a solid lead over Trump in the latest polls, said Juneteenth reminded Americans “that our country is capable of the worst violence and injustice but it also has an incredible capacity to be reborn anew.”
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