WASHINGTON - The governors of Minnesota and 11 other states have called up National Guard troops as they faced another night of violent protests sparked by the death of an African American man while in police custody.
For the past five nights, initially peaceful protesting has degenerated into looting, arson and other violence in Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul, as well as other cities across the United States, following the gruesome death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We are under assault,” first-term Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said as he promised “full strength” would be used to restore order.
Governors in at least 11 other states — Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah, Washington, California, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas — also activated National Guard troops to help quell protests that in many areas have turned violent.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles, where protesters were in the street late Saturday as fires burned.
In Indianapolis, there were multiple shootings downtown Saturday during a second night of protests. One person was killed and two people were wounded. Police Chief Randal Taylor urged residents who did not live in the area to leave because he said. “Downtown is not safe at this time.”
Nearly 1,400 people have been arrested across the country, according to an Associated Press tally Saturday. That toll is probably higher as the protests continued through the night.
Mayors across the U.S. have instituted nighttime curfews after violence occurred in their cities, including Los Angeles; Seattle; Atlanta; Denver; Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; and Columbia, South Carolina.
The demonstrators are protesting the death of George Floyd, who can be seen in a video lying on the ground with a white officer pressing his knee into his neck. Floyd, who is handcuffed with his hands behind his back on the video, can be heard pleading repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.”
The cellphone images have sparked global outrage, with protests spreading across the country. While some protests have led to violence — including arson and looting in Minneapolis and Portland — others have remained peaceful, as in Wilmington, Delaware, and Greenville, South Carolina.
In New York, protester took to the streets for a third consecutive night and shortly before midnight, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news conference in Brooklyn, not far from the sports arena where demonstrators have gathered. He said the number of protesters still on the city’s streets at that hour numbered only in the “hundreds” and he appealed to them to go home.
New York has not deployed the National Guard, and the mayor said the city's police department is "the right organization" to address the situation because they understand New York.
De Blasio said later he wished police had taken a “different approach” after seeing video of a plainly marked police cruisers driving into a group of protesters.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) posted on Twitter that the mayor’s “comments tonight were unacceptable."
"As mayor, this police department is under your leadership," she wrote. "This moment demands leadership & accountability from each of us. Defending and making excuses for NYPD running SUVs into crowds was wrong."
Thousands of demonstrators descended on Chicago’s Loop Saturday and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said their behavior, including burning a flag had “evolved into criminal conduct.” Lightfoot ordered a 9 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew.
Police continue to clash with looting protesters in Los Angeles as fires burned.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) posted a message on Twitter for the protesters.
“I know your pain, your rage, your sense of despair and hopelessness. Justice has, indeed, been denied for far too long. Rioting, looting, and burning is not the way. Organize. Demonstrate. Sit-in. Stand-up. Vote. Be constructive, not destructive.”
Protests near the White House in Washington erupted into violence late Saturday. Some protesters set off fireworks and threw bottles at the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police, who used pepper spray. Later, hundreds of protesters circled the White House and looted nearby stores as a fire erupted near the historic Hay Adams Hotel.
The D.C. National Guard has been activated to protect the White House.
President Donald Trump spoke about the unrest Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Space Center, where he watched the SpaceX launch.
“The death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, was a grave tragedy. It should never have happened. It has filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger and grief,” he said.
“I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice and peace. And I stand before you in firm opposition to anyone exploiting this tragedy to loot, rob, attack, and menace. Healing not hatred, justice not chaos, are the mission at hand,” he said.
But he added that Minneapolis cannot let chaos rule as it did early Friday when officers abandoned a police station and ignored protesters for several hours. Police eventually used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
The president has blamed most of the violence on “Antifa and other radical left-wing groups,” and offered Minnesota federal military assistance.
Attorney General William Barr said in a statement, “The outrage of our national community about what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is real and legitimate.
“Accountability for his death must be addressed,” he continued, “and is being addressed, through the regular process of our criminal justice system, both at the state and at the federal level. That system is working and moving at exceptional speed. Already initial charges have been filed. That process continues to move forward. Justice will be served.”
In addition, he said, “We must have law and order on our streets and in our communities, and it is the responsibility of the local and state leadership, in the first instance, to halt this violence. The Department of Justice (including the FBI, Marshals, ATF, and DEA), and all of our 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country, will support these local efforts and take all action necessary to enforce federal law.”
Walz said organized agitators from outside the state were responsible for some of the violence, including white supremacists, anarchists and people associated with drug cartels.
Numerous Minneapolis businesses suffered extensive property damage as protesters randomly looted stores in a Minneapolis neighborhood near the site where Floyd died. Somali-American business owner Ahmed Siyad Shafi’i told VOA that vandals attacked all his of his stores overnight.
“They broke the glass, the doors, the windows,” he said via Skype, “and take whatever they can take.” Shafi’i, the owner of a restaurant and clothing store in South Minneapolis, called it “unacceptable” for anyone to destroy personal property and suggested peaceful protests.
The full mobilization of the Minnesota National Guard will increase its presence beyond the 700 soldiers already deployed. Major General Jon Jensen said there will be more than 1,700 National Guard in the area by Sunday.
The National Guard is a reserve military force with units in each of the 50 states, most of whose members serve part-time. The units can be activated in emergencies by the state governors to help deal with natural disasters or civil unrest.
Derek Chauvin, the officer seen restraining Floyd in the video, was fired on Tuesday from the Minneapolis Police Department. He was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Bail was set at $500,000.
Floyd’s family responded to the charges, demanding a tougher approach.
“We want a first-degree murder charge. And we want to see the other officers arrested. We call on authorities to revise the charges to reflect the true culpability of this officer,” said a family spokesperson.
Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the civil rights group NAACP, told VOA that Floyd’s killing shows that “we have in this country not dealt with the issues of race and the value of African American lives in Minneapolis.”
He said peaceful protests are “a way for the citizens of this country to bring forth grievances of injustice,” and said the NAACP “absolutely oppose rioting; that never solves anything.”
The VOA Somali Service and VOA's Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.