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Minneapolis mayor jeered after refusing to support abolishing police department

(Reuters) - The mayor of Minneapolis ran a gauntlet of angry, jeering protesters on Saturday after telling them he was opposed to their demands for de-funding the city police following George Floyd’s fatal encounter with law enforcement.

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Mayor Jacob Frey, a former civil rights attorney who took office two years ago vowing to repair the police department’s strained relations with minorities, was showered with angry chants of “Go home, Jacob, go home,” and “Shame, shame,” as he stalked away through the crowd, head bowed.

Onlookers’ video of the spectacle went viral on social media on a day when tens of thousands of demonstrators in cities across the country staged a 12th straight day of protests demanding an end to racial bias and brutality in America’s criminal justice system. [L4N2DJ03G]

Frey was first thrust into the national spotlight nearly two weeks ago, after cellphone footage emerged showing Floyd, a black man in handcuffs, lying face down in the street and struggling to breathe as a white policeman knelt on his neck.

The 38-year-old mayor immediately decried the deadly use of force in Floyd’s May 25 arrest as unjustified.

Within days, as street protests raged amid a storm of arson and looting that went largely unchecked by police, Frey drew criticism from some, including U.S. President Donald Trump, for doing too little to restore order. The mayor ultimately imposed a curfew to help quell the disturbances.

All four Minneapolis police officers implicated in Floyd’s death have since been arrested, including Derek Chauvin, the white officer seen pinning Floyd’s neck to the ground, who is charged with murder.

But demonstrators in Minneapolis and elsewhere have since refocused their demands from merely seeking justice for Floyd’s death to a quest for far-reaching police reforms.

Some activists have gone so far as to call for de-funding and dismantling the police department altogether. They argue for shifting city dollars instead into public health programs and other initiatives aimed at preventing violent crime.

On Saturday, according to an account by Minneapolis-based WCCO-TV, a throng of demonstrators marched to Frey’s home and called on him to come out to address the crowd.

When the mayor was later spotted in the crowd, the TV station said, he was asked by one of the protest leaders whether he would commit to de-funding the police. Frey’s exact reply was drowned out, but the crowd erupted in a chorus of angry taunts and boos as he walked off and left the scene.

WCCO caught up afterwards with Frey, who told the television station he favored “massive structural reform to revise a structurally racist system.” But he added, “I’m not for abolishing the entire police department. I will be honest about that.”

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; editing by Philippa Fletcher