Aussies in the US: 'It's scary, fluid and volatile'

Violence has erupted in cities across the US on the sixth night of protests sparked by the death in police custody of African-American George Floyd.

At least 40 cities in 23 states have imposed curfews.

Reporter Kate Benson spoke to three Australians now living in the US to get their take on the situation.


Jenny Curtis was living in Los Angeles in 1992 when the sprawling Californian city exploded.

Back then four Los Angeles policemen - three of them white - were acquitted of the savage beating of Rodney King, an African-American man. The attack was filmed by a bystander and seen across the world.

A matter of hours after the verdict the riots began. They continued for five days.

Despite living through the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992, Australian Jenny Curtis feels what's happening across the United States right now "seems worse".

Ms Curtis, who was born and raised in Sydney, married an American and has lived in LA since 1990.

The dental lab technician is now living under curfew in her home on the outskirts of LA.

"I have two children who would be labelled African-Americans, so this has hit home hard," Ms Curtis said.

"I would describe this as a protest where people have taken the opportunity to hurt others, their property and, I think, the memory of George Floyd.

CURFEW: Sydney-born Jenny Curtis with her children Katie and Kris. Ms Curtis is currently under curfew in Los Angeles.

CURFEW: Sydney-born Jenny Curtis with her children Katie and Kris. Ms Curtis is currently under curfew in Los Angeles.

"There have been protests that started out peacefully and escalated to violence. This happened back in 1992 with the Rodney King riots, which I was here for.

"These seem worse than those ones, mainly because this man died because of excessive force and what the world has been experiencing because of the COVID-19 lockdown."

The protests, Ms Curtis said, have grown in force and number.

"There are many people rioting and we have all cultures and ethnicities out there protesting.

"It is sad that many people, and I have seen all people out there, taking advantage of the situation and breaking into and stealing from businesses.

"Sadly, many of these businesses are small businesses owned by minorities."

Ms Curtis said that racism is "very prevalent" in the US.

"We have horrible unemployment here at the moment because of COVID-19 and we are just starting to open up businesses here.

"There are more people who want peace in their community than the people you see out there being idiots. This is not the way to change things."

She believes people are frustrated.

"I have African-American friends who are frustrated with the system and are not happy with the way people are acting - these few don't represent the majority. I think we all feel frustration in general, as we were all looking to the future and going back to normal lives after COVID."

In the meantime, Ms Curtis is exercising "common sense".

"I'm staying in, I'm not going out looking to see what's going on, there is no reason to be out."


Cindy Bosley is living at the epicentre of the situation in Minneapolis. She says it is "scary, fluid and volatile".

Originally from Perth, Ms Bosley has adopted three African-American daughters Caitlyn, 26, Kylee, 24, and Chloe, 13. All have been victims of racism.

She has lived in the Twin Cities since 1997.

"Minnesotans are hurting, angry and making their voices heard in good and not so good ways," Ms Bosley said.

"They are fed up with the racial profiling and police treating white and blacks differently.

"They are upset with police being protected from prosecution when their actions injure or kill."

While there are many Minnesotans causing mayhem, Ms Bosley said there are plenty of people coming in from other states to wreak havoc and destroy property.

Minnesotans are hurting, angry, and making their voices heard in good and not so good ways.

"My nephew is in the National Guard and right now he is in downtown Minneapolis trying to maintain peace. I worry about his safety."

The large numbers of people gathering together protesting, in light of COVID-19, is also a cause for concern.

"Minnesota is just opening up restrictions on businesses and shops that have closed due to combating the spread of the virus.

"People have been furloughed, lost their jobs or have had their hours cut and now their place of employment has once again suffered due to being burnt down, vandalised or closed temporarily due to caution as a result of the rioting.

"I worry about the economic impact of this for the Twin Cities."


In New York, "emotions are tense" and people are terrified, according to former Sunshine Coast resident Emily Baylee.

Ms Baylee, who works in the fashion industry, has lived in the Bronx for six years.

"The injustice hurts ... it's such a complex situation with no easy solution," Ms Baylee said. "My heart is heavy knowing there is such an injustice in America. I don't understand the hate. But I stand with equality for black people and support Black Lives Matter."

Driving through SoHo to work, Ms Baylee said many of the streets had been shut off due to damage.

"The Bank of America, Starbucks and other stores have been smashed. Trash was on the streets, traces of fires, graffiti."

Tensions, Ms Baylee said, are "super-high".

"It's a sad time. I don't think a lot of people know how to help.

"Every evening there are protests in different neighbourhoods in the city. NYC has been met with military-style force and brutality ... the aggressive reaction of the police has resulted in carnage and rioting.

"It's like everyone's on attack mode. The people have had enough."

Ms Baylee stressed that "racism in America causes death".

"What's the most frightening is to think that people I love are racially targeted and that can result in being killed in America."


Former Canberra man, Andrew Phelan describes Chicago, the city he has lived in for 19 years, as "a mess" right now.

"All I've heard all day is sirens and helicopters. I am right by downtown so wasn't too far from everything last night, which we thought was bad enough," Mr Phelan said.

"There has been major damage to loads of buildings, widespread looting and confrontations with police.

So, I couldn't find any dinner, as all the delivery services aren't coming to my neighborhood and even Mariano's (grocery store) is closed. I ended up going through McDonalds drive through. On my way back, the car in front of me pulled over and three bros got out, one with an axe. They smashed open the windows on a CVS (pharmacy). Three other cars pulled up and about 10 hopped out and ran into a store. It was crazy. No cops in sight.

Text message to Andrew Phelan from a mate in Chicago

"They blocked off the entire downtown area today, as a preventative measure, and brought in the National Guard to assist the already large police presence.

"Snow ploughs, garbage trucks are blocking all the roads to the CBD where most of the trouble was last night and all of the bridges over the Chicago River are up to prevent crowds being easily able to move around."

With downtown blocked off, Mr Phelan said protests have moved outside of the city.

Mr Phelan said the looting and destruction seemed to be conducted by organised smaller groups.

"And when I say organised, I mean it. A lot of it is planned out."

People, Mr Phelan commented, were already doing it tough due to the pandemic.

"I understand the terrible situation with the death of George Floyd. I agree wholeheartedly in the prosecution of the one policeman and, if guilty, the other parties.

"What I don't condone is the reckless destruction and looting of stores who are on the brink as it is due to the pandemic.

"I know several business owners who were hit last night. Times are really tough. What does this achieve?

"The world doesn't need more worries. We have enough already."

This story Aussies in the US: 'It's scary, fluid and volatile' first appeared on The Canberra Times.