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George Floyd protesters in their own words: 'We are human beings that want justice'

"We have yet another innocent man being killed by a police officer," said Anzhane Laine in Washington, D.C.
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For many of the thousands of protesters in cities across the country, there seems to be one primary demand — justice for George Floyd's death and an end to police brutality against African Americans.

"The injustice has been going on for so long," said Ben Hubert, 26, who lives in the Minneapolis area. "It’s been swelling for years.”

"That could be my father; that could be my brother. That could be me," one Atlanta protester, a black man, told NBC News of his thoughts when he saw the video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck as Floyd pleaded, "Please, please, please, I can't breathe."

"It just happened too many times," the Atlanta protester said.

Floyd died in police custody Monday after he was pinned to the ground for over eight minutes. Derek Chauvin, the since-fired officer who knelt on his neck despite pleas from Floyd and onlookers, was arrested and charged Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers were also involved in Floyd's detainment.

Public officials around the country decried the violence and chaos that broke out at many demonstrations Friday night, with the Minnesota governor saying "wanton destruction" in his state came from people who live elsewhere. About 80 percent of the arrests in the Twin Cities on Friday night were of people from outside Minnesota, officials said.

The Minnesota governor said demonstrations that were peaceful earlier in the week, after video of Floyd's death came out on Tuesday, have devolved and no longer have anything to do with Floyd or a demand for racial justice.

Protesters near Barclays Center following a rally over the death of George Floyd on May 29, 2020, in Brooklyn, N.Y.Frank Franklin II / AP

But not everyone in protests around the country appeared to engage in violence, and some who spoke to the media said their message is simple: “We are human beings that want justice for our people,” as one demonstrator in the nation's capital told NBC Washington.

Another protester, Anzhane Laine, said that until Chauvin is convicted "there will no peace until we get justice."

"I spent all day crying because it's completely unfair," Laine said. "We have yet another innocent man being killed by a police officer."

Those who gathered outside the White House chanted, "Don't shoot" and "Black lives matter." Many people held up signs that read, "We stand together #BLM" and "We r not thugs," in reference to President Donald Trump's labeling protesters as "thugs" in a tweet early Friday.

Some demonstrations have turned violent and even deadly. In Atlanta, vehicles were set on fire and buildings, including the CNN Center, were vandalized during a Friday night protest. Police officers fired tear gas into the massive crowds as they tried to get people to leave.

In New York City, officers pepper-sprayed a crowd after a police vehicle was set on fire, and in Louisville, Kentucky, — where Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by officers executing a search warrant — seven people were shot during a Thursday night protest.

Circumstances of the Louisville shootings were not immediately clear, and police said officers were not involved.

In Detroit, a 19-year-old man was killed after someone in a van fired shots into a crowd of protesters. A police spokesperson said an officer was not involved. And a security officer with the Federal Protective Service of the Department of Homeland Security was killed in Oakland and another injured after someone in a vehicle opened fire around 9:45 p.m. on Friday, the FBI said.

Demonstrators said that despite tensions running high in some cities, they hope the message of why they are gathering does not get lost.

"It keeps happening. No matter what's done, no matter how many protests it keeps happening," an Atlanta protester told NBC News, adding, "It's always been happening, but now it's just recorded and getting seen more."