Barack Obama, Martin Luther King III, Oprah and Jamie Foxx have joined a growing list of celebrities and public figures to call for justice in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Floyd died after being arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill at a store. After being handcuffed and pinned to the ground, a white officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes as he pleaded for air.

"This shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America. It can't be 'normal'. If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better," former US president Barack Obama wrote in a statement on Twitter on Friday.

His wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, also weighed in: "I'm exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop. Right now it's George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. Before that it was Eric, Sandra, and Michael. It just goes on, and on, and on."

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Protests have raged across the country for several days now – from Minneapolis, where Floyd died, to Los Angeles and New York.

The police officer who was seen kneeling on Floyd's neck was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday, but it did nothing to stem the anger.

Activists say Floyd's death has exposed the simmering frustrations in America surrounding racism and police brutality.

In Minneapolis, actor Jamie Foxx declared "we are not afraid of this moment" as he stood in solidarity with social justice advocates.

"When we see you guys out on the frontline, we want to let you know you got support," he said. "To all of my friends who aren't black, just try to put yourself in our position," he added.

Oprah also called for justice on Friday, saying she couldn't stop picturing Floyd's final moments.

"I haven't been able to get the image of the knee on his neck out of my head," she said in a statement online.

"George Floyd: We speak your name. But this time we will not let your name be just a hashtag. Your spirit is lifted by the cries of all of us who call for justice in your name."

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Protests turn violent

Several city leaders are now desperately urging protesters to stop the "chaos", after police buildings were burned, patrol cars vandalised and stores looted.

"This is not the legacy of civil rights in America. This is chaos, and we are buying into it," Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said alongside rappers T.I and Killer Mike.

"This won't change anything, we are no longer talking about the murder of an innocent man. We are talking about how you are burning police cars on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia."

Martin Luther King III – the son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr – also called for peace, but said Floyd's death had "ignited a flame" that had been brewing for a generation.

"What we need is to heal the sores of racism that have been festering and eating away at the soul of America," he said.

"As my father explained during his lifetime, a riot is the language of the unheard," he said in another tweet.

'What are you supposed to do?'

As flames lit up the skyline in Minneapolis on Friday night, a young African-American protester told a reporter: "The real reason we're here is because the police keep killing black folk all around the United States".

"We're in 2020 and we're dealing with the same problem that we were dealing with in the 60s … it looks like Minneapolis finally reached that breaking point," he said.

"George Floyd isn't the first," added another protester, 29-year-old Jerry, who is white. "What are you supposed to do, just sit back and take it?"

"It's scary but necessary at the same time," said a young student. "Sometimes things need to get bad before getting better."

But others are not so sure. "They are making it worse. They give them [the police] a reason to shoot us," 34-year-old Phae, a black woman, said.

"I sympathised completely but I don't want to lose all my stuff," said another young woman who lives above a barricaded shop and is scared it could be set on fire.

– With wires