Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey declared a state of emergency Thursday as protests raged into Friday and a police station and other buildings burned in the tension-filled city where an African American man died in police custody Monday night.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called out the National Guard to try to prevent further violence. Five hundred soldiers have been “activated,” the National Guard said late Thursday, and will be deployed to Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding communities. A reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweeted that armored vehicles began rolling through downtown before dawn Friday.
Frey said early Friday that the city is in “a lot of pain and anger” but the looting and burning is “unacceptable" and that the damaged properties were “essential to our community.”
Late Thursday, after hundreds of demonstrators had marched peacefully, a Minneapolis police precinct went up in flames. Reporters on the scene said the police presence at in the area had been reduced to “zero” and they were unsure where the police were. Posts on Twitter indicated the police station had been abandoned. Firefighters were also absent. Meanwhile, the city warned that officials had unconfirmed reports that gas lines had been cut and that the building could explode.
Frey said he had decided to let the precinct burn late Thursday after receiving reports that protesters were trying to breech the premises. Police personnel were evacuated from the precinct, and late Thursday it was set ablaze by protesters, along with several nearby buildings.
“Brick and mortar is not as important as life,” Frey said in defense of the move. “We will continue to do our jobs.”
Several stores in Minneapolis and the twin city of St. Paul were also set ablaze Thursday night. St. Paul police report officers being hit by rocks and bottles.
Early Friday, St. Paul police tweeted that more than 170 businesses were damaged or looted and the city saw dozens of fires but no serious injuries.
The protesters are enraged by the death of George Floyd after a white police officer knelt on his neck while he was in custody, allegedly killing him. CNN reported that the officer had 18 prior complaints filed against him with the Minneapolis Police Department's Internal Affairs.
Minneapolis police say Floyd resembled a suspect wanted for allegedly trying to spend a counterfeit $20 bill in a food store. Police say he had resisted arrest. Bystanders captured the scene on cellphone video as officers detained Floyd. The video spread widely when posted online.
“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” Floyd pleaded, while being detained by a white police officer. According to cellphone video, the officer held Floyd on the ground and knelt on his neck. Floyd was handcuffed.
The officer restraining Floyd urged him to “relax,” but the officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck after Floyd stopped moving. One witness said he heard Floyd calling out for his mother before dying.
Because of Floyd’s “I can’t breathe,” his death was quickly compared to that of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man in New York who died in 2014 after a white officer placed him in a chokehold while he begged for his life. Garner also told officers “I can’t breathe,” and the cry became a national rallying point against police brutality.
Rallies were also taking part in other cities Thursday. The Associated Press reported that hundreds of demonstrators stood in the downtown streets and chanted as darkness fell outside the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, where protesters spray-painted graffiti and broke car windows.
AP reported that cellphone video shot by protester Anabel Escobar, 29, showed a man on the hood of an SUV making its way through the crowd in front of the Capitol. The video showed the driver speeding up and then apparently trying to run the man over after he fell off the hood. The vehicle sped away as other protesters chased it. It was unclear if the man on the hood was injured.
In other areas of downtown Denver, police fired gas canisters and used rubber bullets to drive away people who were blocking streets, AP said. The Washington Post reported that shots were fired.
The Minneapolis Police Department fired all four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest. The FBI has joined Minneapolis police and the Hennepin County attorney’s office in the investigation. The Justice Department said the investigation is a top priority.
President Donald Trump tweeted that he has asked for the probe to be “expedited. ... My heart goes out to George’s family and friends. Justice will be served!”
He later criticized the city's leadership as "weak," said he was prepared to "send in the National Guard & get the job done right" and warned that "Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Twitter later flagged the tweet, saying it "violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence."
Frey, when told of the tweets by reporters, said, “Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis.” And “We are strong as hell.”
The city’s police union is asking the public to wait until the investigation is complete before “rushing to judgment and immediately condemning our officers."
But the public is responding to video, which shows Floyd's head turned to the side as he does not appear to be resisting. Toward the end of the video, paramedics arrive, lift a limp Floyd onto a stretcher and place him in an ambulance.
"He wasn't actively resisting, and he was saying he couldn't breathe," said Charles P. Stephenson, a former police officer and FBI agent with expertise in use-of-force tactics quoted by the Associated Press. "You have to understand that possibility is there (that Floyd couldn't breathe), and you release any kind of restriction you might have on an airway immediately."
Law enforcement officers have many ways to detain people but “no police academy that we know of teaches a police officer to use their knee, to put it on their neck,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which researches and advises on police practices, told the Associated Press. “That’s just not taught because that can impact their breathing and their carotid artery (a crucial vessel that supplies blood to the brain). So when police look at that video, they are shocked that those tactics were used.”
On Thursday, Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, urged everyone in the city to keep calm after two nights of violence that included fires and people — white and black — allegedly looting a Target store, pushing cartloads of items into the street.
The windows of nearly every store surrounding the Target were smashed and a hamburger restaurant was burned to the ground.
Police in riot gear fired tear gas to break up a crowd demonstrating outside a Minneapolis police precinct. The building and one police car were damaged.
No serious injuries were reported, but Minneapolis police have arrested a suspect they said shot and killed a man he believed was trying to loot a pawn shop.
Some residents who live near the looted stores strongly criticized the police but said they cannot understand why people are destroying their own neighborhood, including places where they shop.
In New York City, the Associated Press reported, protesters defied New York's coronavirus prohibition on public gatherings Thursday, clashing with police. Demonstrations also took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A day earlier, demonstrators had taken to the streets in Los Angeles and Memphis.
Floyd’s death drew international attention.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Right Michelle Bachelet said U.S. authorities have a duty to ensure that justice is done as she read off the list of black men who have lost their lives in U.S. police custody over the last few years.
“In too many cases in the past, such investigations have led to killings being deemed justified on questionable grounds, or only being addressed by administrative measures,” she said.
While Bachelet said the “entrenched and pervasive” racism in the United States must be recognized and tackled, she also said more violence and looting will not solve the problem.
“I urge protesters to express their demands for justice peacefully, and I urge the police to take utmost care not inflame the current situation even more with any further use of excessive force.”
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told CNN Thursday that he is “tired of seeing black men die” and urged protesters to maintain peace. He called on police to “start doing your job the right way, because I haven't been seeing it. ... I want justice. I just want justice," he said, he fighting back tears.
Frey said Thursday that the violent reaction to Floyd’s death is the “result of so much built-up anger and sadness … that has been ingrained in our black community, not just because of five minutes of horror, but 400 years,” a reference to slavery and subsequent racism.
Frey is white, and the city he leads is close to 64 percent white, according to the U.S. Census. Only about 19 percent of the city’s residents are African American.
Floyd’s death comes weeks after three people were charged with the fatal shooting in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery. The African American man was killed in February, allegedly by a white former Glynn County police officer and his son who apparently mistook Arbery for a burglar while he was jogging. The two were charged only after a video of the shooting emerged several weeks later. The man who shot the video was charged.