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Demonstrators in Washington demanding justice for the death of African-American George Floyd on Monday repeatedly asked police officers on their route to kneel down as a sign of respect. The gesture, initiated in 2016 by American footballer Colin Kaepernick, has been increasingly adopted in recent days.

The scene lasted only a few minutes but the symbol is strong. On Monday 1 June, outside the Trump Hotel in Washington, the police officers in charge of protecting the site accepted the challenge shouted by the demonstrators: “Kneel down! Get down on your fucking knees!” After the signal from one of them, all the officers took turns.

The gesture had a special meaning. In 2016, African-American football player Colin Kaepernick knelt several times during the US national anthem to protest the “oppression” of people of color and racist police violence. Donald Trump and his Republican allies, angry at what they saw as disrespect for the flag, had called for a boycott of the NFL, the U.S. National Football League. Colin Kaepernick’s political activism, close to the Black Lives Matter movement, cost him his career as a quarterback.

Powerful images

Several years later, the kneeling is again adopted by the demonstrators who march in memory of George Floyd, the African-American killed by Minneapolis police last week. The gesture is all the more symbolic since his death occurred after he was asphyxiated below a police officer’s knee.

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This time, some police officers and politicians are joining the movement, offering strong images of understanding between two usually opposing sides. On Monday in Santa Cruz, California, the mayor and the chief of police of the city knelt with the demonstrators. The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, did the same. This kind of scene was repeated all over the country

Even in the world of sports, tributes like this are becoming more and more

common. Monchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram dropped to his knees, looking down at the ground after scoring a goal on Sunday.

“Show us your respect!”

Monday in Washington, the demonstrators took every opportunity to call the police but the success near the Trump Hotel was not repeated. “Why don’t you resign?” they asked a motorcycle cop they had just surrounded near the US Congress, for example. “Kneel with us, show us your respect!” The biker, who turned off his engine for several minutes to lower the voltage, refused to get down on his knees.

In front of the Capitol, at the end of the demonstration, a man shouted in vain to the lined up policemen: “If you don’t show us your support and continue to protect this racist system, how can it ever change? I understand that you have to do your job. But please understand us too. In other states, police chiefs are joining the crowd. We’re in the capital and you can’t even get down on one knee! Who do you serve? The one percent?”

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Some police officers, if they didn’t kneel, showed solidarity with the demonstrators. On Saturday, a Michigan sheriff took off his helmet and told his men to put down their sticks. “We really want to be with you,” said Christopher R. Swanson, before asking the protesters, “What can we do?” “Walk with us,” the crowd replied. The parade that followed lasted several hours. “We are marching with you because all you are asking for is a voice and dignity for everyone, no matter who you are,” the sheriff said. “I love you guys. The police love you.”

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