The people giving voice to their anger are individual pieces of a movement, like drops of water to a wave.

For a week, cities across the US have been theaters of dissent. The protesters are in the torched neighbourhoods of Minneapolis, Minnesota. They are banging the barricades outside the White House, surging through New York's Union Square, smashing shop windows in Beverly Hills, California.

The people giving voice to their anger are individual pieces of a movement, like drops of water to a wave. Their strength is in cohesiveness. Yet they are strangers, divided by geography, age, colour and experience.

A 65-year-old black woman in Boston. The teenage daughter of undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles. A white stay-at-home mother from Austin, Texas.

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They have all had enough.

"I can't breathe," read the signs carried by many protesters, echoing some of the last words of George Floyd, whose death in the custody of Minneapolis police — his neck rammed under an officer's knee — ignited a sudden, collective fury.

"It was a powder keg," said Michael Sampson II, who was on the streets over the weekend in Jacksonville, Florida. "George Floyd was the last straw."

"I am heartbroken and outraged every day," said Candice Elder, who was marching in Oakland, California. "I'm tired of being sick and tired."

Maybe at another time, in another year, Floyd's death would have ended in a vigil, a few local marches, promises of reform.

But America was not prepared to accept the usual responses to this death, at this time. Not in the middle of a pandemic that has taken more than 100,000 lives, many of them black. Not in a country where unemployment, which has also hit African Americans with disproportionate effect, is at its highest point in a century.

Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Desperation.

These are the moods of the moment. They have driven people to the streets, bound into a movement, draped in hopelessness.

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Or is it hope?

A protest is an act of desperation and defiance. But why do it if not for the belief, however modest, that the voices in the street will be heard?

MINNEAPOLIS

Don Hubbard, 44

Don Hubbard said he had no choice but to come to Cup Foods, the store where a store clerk reported that Floyd had tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill, leading to the call to police.

A Minneapolis native, Hubbard said 90 per cent of his interactions with police were negative, even though he has been a local government employee for years.

About 10 years ago, Hubbard said, police stopped him as he came out of a store, saying that he "fit the description" of a man accused in a domestic dispute.

"I fit the description because I was black," he said.

Don Hubbard in Minneapolis. Photo / Victor J. Blue, The New York Times
Don Hubbard in Minneapolis. Photo / Victor J. Blue, The New York Times

Hubbard said his co-worker, who was white, sat in the truck and looked the other way instead of vouching for him.

"I haven't talked to that man since this day," Hubbard said. "I think he's a coward."

Now working for the county, Hubbard said he was the only black construction employee in a staff of about 90. He drives a BMW and owns a house with a pool in suburban Brooklyn Park. But he still feels like police define him by the color of his skin and worries about his two sons and two daughters, ages 4 to 24.

"I come out here today on a nice day like this because I feel like if I don't come out here, and we don't all show up, then what are we doing?" Hubbard said. "We're letting this man die in vain."

- Kim Barker

LOS ANGELES

Beatriz Lopez, 19

At Hollywood High, Beatriz Lopez was one of two nonblack students performing with the hip-hop majorette dance team.

"Every single year there was an African American assembly for students organised by the black student union," Lopez said. "It was very emotional. They would read poems about police brutality. They would make slideshows remembering people who had passed away from police brutality that year. That resonated with me."

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Lopez identified with the way black people were treated by police because she grew up worrying about how officers might interact with her parents.

Beatriz Lopez in Los Angeles. Photo / Bethany Mollenkof, The New York Times
Beatriz Lopez in Los Angeles. Photo / Bethany Mollenkof, The New York Times

"We always had something to be scared of because my parents are undocumented," she said. "Every time I would see police, even now, I get some kind of anxiety. I feel like they will always have the upper hand. I feel that with a uniform and badge, they are in control of everyone around them. That infuriates me."

The death of Floyd opened the doors.

"When my friend sent me that flyer about the protest, I felt I had to go," she said. "I had been asking, 'What can I do?' "

Lopez marched down Third Street with her three friends and thousands more people chanting for George Floyd and justice. When they arrived at the intersection of Third and La Cienega, they knelt.

"We felt the ground so hot and rough, and how he must have felt in that moment."

- Miriam Jordan

ST. LOUIS

Chad Bennett, 22

Chad Bennett and his father, wearing matching face masks, stood back in a parking lot as they watched protesters march past the Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri, the site of numerous protests since Michael Brown, a black teenager, was killed by a white police officer there in 2014.

Chad Bennett during a protest outside the Police Department in Ferguson. Photo / Whitney Curtis, The New York Times)
Chad Bennett during a protest outside the Police Department in Ferguson. Photo / Whitney Curtis, The New York Times)

"When Ferguson happened, the whole world descended on us," said Bennett, a graduate of Columbia College Chicago who works as an animator. "This time, it was like bam, bam, bam, city after city. I knew I had to be a part of it."

Seeing the video of what happened to Floyd left him "numb," he said. "It's a silent rage, I guess," he said. "I don't know if I'm sad anymore. I'm just angry."

- Whitney Curtis

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA

Michael Sampson II, 30

Michael Sampson is a community organiser who works with families whose sons were killed by police.

"In every city, there's a George Floyd," he said.

Sampson is half Filipino and half African American. His mother works two jobs, at a convenience store and as a housekeeper.

"Police brutality and Covid was the gasoline," Sampson said of the protests. "Those videos sparked the fire. That's why the country is on fire at this point. People are already suspicious of the criminal justice system, of white supremacy and how it affects people."

- Frances Robles

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Beth Muffett, 36

Beth Muffett is a white stay-at-home mother and massage therapist. When officers outside City Hall used their bicycles to push back a crowd of protesters, she screamed and noted their badge numbers.

She ended up bruised, pepper-sprayed and outraged.

"I think there's a real turn right now among moms who want to educate their kids to be post-racial," said Muffett, whose daughter is nearly 4. "And so that's led to a lot of moms on Facebook being like, 'Your white silence is deafening.'"

Beth Muffett in Austin, Texas. Photo / Ilana Panich-Linsman, The New York Times
Beth Muffett in Austin, Texas. Photo / Ilana Panich-Linsman, The New York Times

"If you're not standing up for George Floyd," she said, "who's going to stand up for you? It's just a level of wrongness, that I couldn't say no to going out to try to do something."

For most of her life, Muffett had positive interactions with law enforcement — until Sunday.

After she and her friends left the protest, Muffett had bruises on her stomach and knee from where one officer struck her with his bicycle and another bruise on her arm after she fell back onto another protester.

"I'm sorry, this is the first time as a white lady I've gone through this," Muffett said. "There's a lot of privileged white women, and I'm one of them," she said. "I've never had a cop treat me like that."

- Manny Fernandez and David Montgomery

MINNEAPOLIS

Erika Zdon, 48

"George Floyd, George Floyd," rang the staccato chant from protesters ringing a memorial of flowers at the spot where Floyd died.

Erika Zdon had never joined a protest, but Sunday, she drove her five children from Isanti, Minnesota, an hour away, so they could witness this moment.

Erika Zdon in Minneapolis. Photo / Victor J. Blue, The New York Times
Erika Zdon in Minneapolis. Photo / Victor J. Blue, The New York Times

"I said this could be in the history books, and this could be something that changes the world," Zdon said, "and you should smell it and see it and hear it and feel what's happening in our community."

Zdon knew the violence of Floyd's death was a difficult thing to share with her children, but their day-to-day life is full of white people. Before she and her family stood at the site where Floyd lost his life, she took them to a looted Target.

"I talked to the kids a lot about this is what hate is," Zdon said. "This is what bound-up feelings look like."

- Dionne Searcey

MINNEAPOLIS

Kennetta Hollivay, 49

Kennetta Hollivay stood outside her store, the Dollar & Up market, a block and a half from the spot where Floyd died.

She and her husband bought the store in September. It has been a rough few months. The store remained open through the pandemic, but business was slow.

Kennetta Hollivay in Minneapolis. Photo / Victor J. Blue, The New York Times
Kennetta Hollivay in Minneapolis. Photo / Victor J. Blue, The New York Times

Hollivay has lived in the neighbourhood her whole life and said she felt compelled to join the protests, at first at least.

"When I first heard about it, I was like, 'Oh, wow, the police have killed somebody else,'" Hollivay said. "And I was hurt. But once I saw video, it was like — that man died right before our eyes. I've never seen nothing like that before. Ever. Ever. I told my husband yesterday I've been having these dreams every night of this. Nightmares."

- Dionne Searcey

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

Candice Elder, 36

Candice Elder runs an organization that has been trying to protect the homeless from the coronavirus. On Sunday, she pivoted to protecting protesters from clashes with police. She distributed goggles, masks, first-aid supplies and milk of magnesia, which is diluted with water to ease the sting of tear gas.

Elder said she saw the death of Floyd in the context of the constant sting of racism in her work with homeless people. One quarter of Oakland's population is black. Yet 70 per cent of the homeless people are African American.

Candice Elder in Oakland, California. Photo / Christie Hemm Klok, The New York Times
Candice Elder in Oakland, California. Photo / Christie Hemm Klok, The New York Times

An episode in April shook her up to the point of needing counselling. Two volunteers, both of them black, were on their way to meet with her when they were pulled from their car by police officers. The arrest, which took place in the parking lot of Elder's nonprofit group, was captured on video. One of the workers was pinned to the ground next to his car, a scene that resembled the later arrest of Floyd.

The worker was taken to jail but released the next day. Police apologised, Elder said, saying it had been a case of mistaken identity.

"I'm tired of being sick and tired."

- Thomas Fuller

COLUMBUS, OHIO

Ben Willis, 28

Ben Willis grew up in a part of the city where he learned from a young age that African Americans routinely experienced police harassment.

"I know what the police can do," Willis said.

Ben WIllis in Columbus, Ohio. Photo / Maddie McGarvey, The New York Times
Ben WIllis in Columbus, Ohio. Photo / Maddie McGarvey, The New York Times

Those episodes helped propel him to the front lines of demonstrations in his hometown, where he has played a role in keeping protesters calm, focused and supported.

There are guidelines that Willis encourages fellow demonstrators to follow. Keep peaceful. Take steps not to hurt one another.

- Julie Bosman

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

Sydney Driver, 37

As a child, Sydney Driver's family warned him to avoid white neighbourhoods and police. His aunt would tell him not to ride his bike over there because he and his friends would be beaten up — if not by residents, then by officers.

"We always had these restrictions since I was a little boy," Driver said. "And now I'm married with four kids, and I don't want to leave them in this world like it is when I go."

On Sunday afternoon outside Barclays Center, he cheered and raised his fist in solidarity with the messages being yelled over a megaphone.

Sidney Driver during a protest march on the Manhattan Bridge in New York. Photo / Demetrius Freeman, The New York Times
Sidney Driver during a protest march on the Manhattan Bridge in New York. Photo / Demetrius Freeman, The New York Times

Driver said he felt the destruction of property and looting had been given outsized attention by people who refused to acknowledge that previous generations' efforts to march peacefully against racism had never come close to succeeding.

"The police had dogs at your great-grandfather's legs when he was trying to do it peacefully," he said. "He got spit on."

Driver said he and his wife had cried together watching the video of Floyd's fatal encounter with police. "If I have to die out here," he said, he did not care. "I don't. I just don't."

- Caitlin Dickerson

LOS ANGELES

Liz Culley, 34

Liz Culley and her wife joined neighbours who protested at Pan Pacific Park.

"It was beautiful," she said. "Some young kids gave me an extra sign because I didn't have one."

It was after she got home that much more chaotic protests moved onto her street. She coughed on the tear gas that reached her home as protesters sought refuge.

Liz Culley in Los Angeles. Photo / Bethany Mollenkof, The New York Times
Liz Culley in Los Angeles. Photo / Bethany Mollenkof, The New York Times

"I grabbed whatever I could — bottles of water and paper towels — and ran downstairs," Culley said. "Other neighbours came out; it was all of us, the whole building as a unit. I was spraying people's eyes, wiping their eyes; we had a little station set up."

The street became a hot zone for several hours.

"People grabbed metal trash bins and barricaded the street so cops couldn't drive through," Culley said. "A girl came up with blood all over her face. We cleaned her up and told her she had to go to the hospital."

As the confrontations dissipated, other kinds of protesters moved in. "Opportunists," she called them.

She felt disappointed. "There were people who wanted to be a part of a political statement, a movement, a march," she said. "But burning the city, I don't think that has anything to do with the people we interacted with yesterday. It's just sad."

- Adam Popescu

MINNEAPOLIS

Rashaad Dinkins, 18

Rashaad Dinkins was 12 when unrest broke out in Ferguson. He remembers watching the news, knowing that black people were being killed.

"I just understood that my skin could get me in trouble, and I need to be careful about how I represent myself and how I act around certain groups," Dinkins said.

When he worked at the Mall of America, a security guard followed him while he was on break. Dinkins became an actor and would become deflated when he sometimes was passed up for roles.

Rashaad Dinkins in Minneapolis. Photo / Victor J. Blue, The New York Times
Rashaad Dinkins in Minneapolis. Photo / Victor J. Blue, The New York Times

"Going into auditions and being told you weren't good enough from a panel of white people, it was kind of demeaning and challenging," Dinkins said. "That's when I realized I have a voice and I have to speak up because I can't feel like this anymore."

When Floyd was killed just a few blocks from where Dinkins lives, he knew he had to be a part of the moment.

"I think it was the realisation that it could have been me because I go to that store, and I grew up going to that store all the time," Dinkins said. "It could have easily been my body under that police officer."

- John Eligon

OAKLAND

Qiana Walker, 40

Qiana Walker and her two daughters were finishing breakfast Sunday morning when they decided they would scrap their plans for a hike, the beach and baby back ribs and instead join their first protest together.

To Walker, an out-of-work saleswoman who is having trouble paying her bills, the decision was not easy. She had not attended a protest in more than a decade, and never with her daughters, ages 16 and 22, largely because of the fear of what could happen if things turned violent.

"I can't teach them fear," she said through a black scarf, held over her mouth by a black hood pulled tight. "I have to teach them to fight, to stand up for yourself, to know to protect yourself."

- Jack Nicas

MINNEAPOLIS

Damarra Atkins, 31

Damarra Atkins, who is part black but was raised by her white mother in a predominantly white culture, said that the protests made her aware of her black identity more than ever.

"I think what hit me about this in particular is how incredibly blatant it was."

She had been sitting alone, on the ground, on Sunday in front of the 5th Police Precinct, waiting to speak to an official. Atkins, who works as an administrative assistant in a hospital and is trained in CPR, had helped set up a pop-up medical tent for injured protesters at a vacant parking lot. She was looking to negotiate with police so that they could agree on who not to target during protests, including medical volunteers.

Damarra Atkins in Minneapolis. Photo / Peter Van Agtmael, The New York Times
Damarra Atkins in Minneapolis. Photo / Peter Van Agtmael, The New York Times

As National Guard troops and state patrols stormed the area, she said, the medical volunteers put their hands up and had visible signs identifying themselves.

Still, she said, they were pelted with flash grenades and rubber bullets.

"I suppose it could have been coincidental," she said, "but it felt very coordinated and very tactical."

She waited for an hour to speak to a police official about keeping medical volunteers safe. No one came. She eventually left.

Like the protesters, she had waited long enough.

- Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura


Written by: John Branch
Photographs by: New York Times photographers
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