Watts 1965, Detroit 1967, LA 1992, Ferguson 2014 and now Minneapolis 2020. America has been here before - its treatment of black people an open wound running through a fractured society before exploding periodically into violent confrontation.

This time it is the killing of George Floyd that has set this country ablaze once again - another name to be chanted on the streets by a people "sick and tired of being sick and tired".

That name now resonates across America, and Floyd's last words as he lay gasping for air - a policeman's knee choking the life out of him - have become a rallying cry. From Minneapolis across to Los Angeles, New York and the nation's capital, Washington, they chant "I can't breathe".

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The corner store where Floyd's life ended is something of a community hub in Minneapolis' Southside neighbourhood, part convenience store, part cheque cashing business, with apartments above, and even a mosque in the basement below.

But from the moment Floyd, 46, was filmed outside the shop gasping as he told police officers "I can't breathe" on Monday night, the Cup Foods storefront has become a makeshift memorial to him.

Hundreds of people have gathered at the site each night since the footage of Floyd's arrest circulated online on Tuesday, showing a white officer, Derek Chauvin, holding his knee into the neck of Floyd, an African-American father-of-two and nightclub security guard, until he became motionless. Floyd's offence? Allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill in a local store.

Chauvin has been dismissed and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The three other officers involved have been fired and may also face charges, prosecutors said. But this has done little to quell the public outcry over Floyd's death - just the latest in the roll call of hundreds of usually unarmed black men, women and children who die at the hands of those who pledge to protect and to serve.

Floyd's death, and his last desperate words, have resurrected the memory of Eric Garner, another black man, who also told police "I can't breathe" as he was placed in a fatal chokehold on New York's Staten Island, on July 17, 2014.

That death also prompted outrage. But it didn't stop black people dying.

Indeed, Floyd's death comes just weeks after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a black jogger in Georgia, at the hands of two white men, was captured on camera, and a couple of months after Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was shot and killed by police officers who raided her Kentucky apartment.

The latest deaths have led to a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013, initially as a social media hashtag before becoming a protest movement, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin the previous year. The slogan was seen on placards across the US as demonstrators took to the streets to express their fury at Floyd's death.

Demonstrators clash as people gather to protest the death of George Floyd near the White House in Washington. Photo / AP
Demonstrators clash as people gather to protest the death of George Floyd near the White House in Washington. Photo / AP

Compounding the sense of rage on the streets is that this injustice comes in the middle of a pandemic that has claimed a disproportionate number of black and ethnic minority lives, in part because of the deep structural inequalities of American society.

On Friday night, hundreds of people, black and white, young and old, returned to the site of Floyd's arrest outside Cup Foods in the Southside neighbourhood of Minneapolis.

Dozens of flowers lie below a picture of Floyd, surrounded by signs reading "rest in power", "stop killing black people" and "I can't breathe".

Local artists played music, others sold hot dogs or gave out free water bottles.

For the past few days, the largely peaceful protests have given way to violence and looting as night falls.

Minneapolis has awoken to a skyline filled with smoke as several buildings - including a police station - have been destroyed by fire and dozens of businesses ransacked by looters.

In a desperate bid to bring the city under control, officials imposed an 8pm curfew on Friday night and deployed more than 350 National Guard troops and police officers. It did little to rein in the protesters, who once more targeted a police station.

Minnesota's governor, Tim Walz, has now been forced to mobilise the state's entire National Guard to restore order - a first in the state's history.

Donald Trump has also threatened action, saying "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" in an incendiary tweet that echoed the words of a Miami police chief in 1967 when he dispatched officers to quash black protesters.

The US president has sought to make the crisis a political issue, publicly criticising Minneapolis's Democratic mayor, Jacob Frey, for failing to curb the violence.

Trump's likely opponent in November's presidential election, Joe Biden, struck a different note as he revealed he had spoken with Floyd's family. "We need justice for George Floyd," he said. "We need real police reform, police reform which holds bad cops to account."

In words that may well hang heavy over this year's presidential election Biden added in a video address: "We're a country with an open wound. None of us any longer can hear the words 'I can't breathe' and do nothing."

Many black leaders have decried the destruction of their own communities by the rioters, with activists like the rapper Killer Mike warning it is they who will suffer when stores and businesses burn.

But in one telling intervention even Atlanta's white police chief, Erika Shields - who talked with demonstrators outside her headquarters - said people were "understandably upset" and that the country faces a "recurring narrative" of black men being killed.

The scenes on the streets of Minneapolis and other American cities these past few days may be familiar, but what happens from now on is harder to predict. Unfortunately all we can be sure of is, without deep and lasting change, George Floyd's name will not be the last to be chanted on burning streets.