Updated 1:40 a.m., May 29
Chaos gripped the Twin Cities again Thursday night into Friday as peaceful protests gave way to spasms of looting and fire-setting. Gov. Tim Walz called up the National Guard amid the unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.
Several fires raged in south Minneapolis and in St. Paul’s Midway area where University Avenue businesses had been sacked earlier in the day.
Just after 10 p.m., protesters overran the Minneapolis 3rd Precinct station — one of the epicenters of conflict the night before — after officers withdrew.
Alondra Cano, a Minneapolis City Council member, told MPR News that she and others had requested that officers be removed from the precinct offices as a deescalation tactic.
The thing we’re trying to avoid is more loss of life,” she said. “I would much rather have an empty precinct with officers safe at home with their families and protesters damaging a building,” she added. “We don’t want any more dead people.”
Cano said she expected it would be hard to control the crowd given the “heightened level of anger and frustration and hurt” around Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody.
Later, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he made the decision to evacuate the 3rd Precinct station.
“Brick and mortar is not as important as life,” he said, adding that patrols and policing will continue in the precinct’s borders. “We are doing absolutely everything that we can to keep the peace.”
Around midnight, President Trump jumped in with tweets condemning violent protesters and saying that he had spoken to Walz. Trump indicated it would be acceptable to shoot looters.
‘A knee on all of our collective necks’
Earlier in the day, Frey promised “an all-out effort” for peace and security in the wake of violence and looting overnight Wednesday into Thursday as people protested the death of Floyd.
“I believe in this city, and I know that you do, too,” he told reporters Thursday after daylight revealed the extent of the damage in south Minneapolis and news that one person was shot and killed.
Frey and Andrea Jenkins, vice president of the Minneapolis City Council, said protesters’ anger over Floyd’s death was understandable given the long history of racism in Minnesota and the country and the need to push back against it.
“We feel there was a knee on all of our collective necks … a knee that says black life does not matter,” said Jenkins, who is black.
However, Jenkins, Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo all said that as much as they grasped the anger, the violence would not be tolerated.
“You have no right to perpetrate violence and harm on the very communities that you say you are standing up for,” said Jenkins. “We need peace and calm in our streets, and I am begging you for that calm.”
Arradondo said the “vast majority” of people have been protesting peacefully the past few days but that the situation changed dramatically overnight as a small number took to destruction and looting.
People took to the streets Tuesday after a video of the incident surfaced showing a white Minneapolis officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for minutes as the man lay handcuffed and face down, pleading that he couldn’t breathe.
Peaceful protests morphed into confrontations with police Tuesday night followed by violence, arson and looting overnight Wednesday into Thursday.
By midmorning Thursday, tensions were rising again.
By early Thursday morning, Minneapolis police confirmed they were also investigating the shooting death of a man, with one person taken into custody.
Minneapolis fire officials Thursday morning said crews responded to at least 16 structure fires during the protests. While trucks were hit by rocks, no firefighter injuries were reported.
Crews continue to respond and extinguish fires.
Citing safety concerns, Metro Transit Thursday evening said it would suspend its bus and light rail service through this weekend. Its Blue Line airport shuttle between Terminals 1 and 2 and the Fort Snelling station will continue to operate.
Protests spill into St. Paul
St. Paul police were also dealing with confrontations Thursday, largely in the city’s Midway neighborhood, including looting at the neighborhood Target store.
Just before 2 p.m., MPR News producer Megan Burks reported looters had moved to a liquor store on the south side of University Avenue and that there were hot spots of trouble throughout the Midway neighborhood.
In the wake of looting continuing in the Twin Cities, Target announced temporary closures of its stores in the metro area Thursday evening. The company said 24 Target stores in the Twin Cities will remain closed until further notice.
Rosedale Mall in Roseville also said it would not be open on Friday and that entrances had been secured so no one could enter.
On the Capitol grounds in St. Paul, buildings and offices of lawmakers, state court staff and judges have been evacuated out of precaution. Staff were urged to leave quickly and work from home for the time being.
As midnight approached on Thursday, St. Paul police said more than 170 business had been damaged or looted, with dozens of fires reported but no serious injuries.
‘Is this criminal?’
Earlier Thursday, FBI officials vowed to move quickly on their civil rights probe and asked for anyone who was near the scene of Floyd’s arrest to come forward. The local U.S. attorney as well as Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman pleaded for patience as evidence is collected.
“I will not rush justice because justice cannot be rushed,” said Freeman. He said there was no doubt the officer’s actions were “excessive and wrong. The question in my business is — is this criminal?”
Without elaborating, Freeman added there was “other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.” Later in a statement, Freeman clarified his remark, saying that “evidence not favorable to our case needs to be carefully examined to understand the full picture of what actually happened.”
Later, a large crowd gathered at the Hennepin County Government Center to demand that the four officers who were fired over the incident be arrested and face charges.
By midnight Thursday, as the mayhem shook Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, called on Freeman to file charges, adding “the officers must be arrested as soon as possible.”
The case, said Winkler, “must be won, and legal standards met in order to get a conviction, but we need to have a clear statement that a murder trial is coming. Now.”
The Guard is expected to supply personnel and equipment needed to “support emergency operations and response,” according to Walz’s order. Some lawmakers expressed worry that a military presence would further inflame the situation.
“George Floyd’s death should lead to justice and systemic change, not more death and destruction,” Walz said in a statement as he OK’d the Guard presence.
“As George Floyd’s family has said, ‘Floyd would not want people to get hurt. He lived his life protecting people.’ Let’s come together to rebuild, remember, and seek justice for George Floyd,” the governor added.
Hours after the governor issued the order, Frey said the Guard’s presence in the city would be “not an occupying force but one to protect these necessary assets for community.”
Guard leaders will coordinate with local governments on their role.
Walz also declared a peacetime emergency as part of the response.
‘It’s like a war came through here’
Reporting from Lake Street in Minneapolis Thursday morning, MPR News’ Jon Collins described the damage as “unbelievable devastation.”
“There's an industrial building across the street from me that's smoking. There's affordable housing that was being built that is still on fire ... there is a Wendy's that is completely demolished in the parking lot. Target has been looted. Cub has been looted ... and blockades everywhere,” he said.
People in the neighborhood expressed disbelief over the devastation as business owners began surveying and cleaning up the damage, which extends along Lake Street into the Uptown neighborhood.
That includes Ingebretsen's, a gift store and meat market that’s been a fixture on Lake Street since the 1920s. Julie Ingebretsen, the granddaughter of the store’s founders, described the damage to the store as “unreal.”
“It’s like a war came through here last night,” she said. “Our windows were broken. I don’t think so much taking stuff, but just knocking shelves over, throwing stuff around, rummaging through drawers. It’s just destruction. And it makes me so sad, I can hardly stand it.”
Metro Transit said Blue Line light rail trains, which run along Hiawatha Avenue with a station at Lake Street, would not run until further notice, and that there would not be replacement bus service.
Minneapolis Council member Alondra Cano said city officials haven’t done enough to ensure that policing culture changes “so these wrongful killings stop.”
“It’s about the systems in place that are continuing to fail people, and we throw everything and the kitchen sink at them, and they’re still not producing the outcomes that we need,” she said.
Cano said she believes the city should increase its support for the businesses affected by the devastation. She said many are locally owned and already facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These are Minneapolis residents, Minneapolis voters,” she said. “Some of them obviously are immigrant entrepreneurs, and they face already so many other challenges with immigrant status, language barriers, general instability in such a difficult moment.”
‘Extremely dangerous situation’
The chaos Wednesday erupted a day after after four Minneapolis police officers were fired in the wake of the video showing a white Minneapolis police officer with his knee on Floyd's neck Monday night. Handcuffed and face down, Floyd told the officer he couldn't breathe. He later died.
The video sparked waves of outrage here and across the county.
The anger is the result of long-simmering frustration over how people of color are treated by the criminal justice system, Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer and activist, told MPR News Thursday morning.
“For black Americans, it’s very easy to look at the video and to know that something horrible and egregious and unlawful happened. It is not rocket science,” she said.
"White people who are conscious can look at that video and they can see the same things that we saw, which is a man murdered in broad daylight in front of our eyes, on video, and the officers — all four of them — their callous disregard for a black life and human life."
Earlier in the day Wednesday, Frey had called for the officer to be prosecuted as he and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo urged peaceful protests.
By 9:30 p.m., Arradondo told Fox 9 News that while the vast majority of protesters were peaceful, there was looting happening as well as “significant property damage” and the “creation of Molotov cocktails.”
Protests, he said, “cannot be at the cost of others’ personal safety. We cannot have that.”
Later Wednesday night, the chief told MPR News that the demonstrations in Floyd’s name had been "hijacked" by some protesters and looters engaged in "criminal conduct."
Late Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz took to Twitter to urge people to leave the area around Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue because it had “evolved into an extremely dangerous situation.”
The 911 call that started it all
The initial emergency dispatch call on Monday that led to George Floyd's death in police custody had little urgency — a caller from the Cup Foods store on Chicago Avenue reporting someone using “fake bills.”
According to a transcript released by the Minneapolis police, the caller tells a dispatcher they asked the man to return the cigarettes he bought but that the the man is “drunk and not in control of himself” and refuses to give back the cigarettes.
The dispatcher asks three times to confirm the race of the suspect. The caller says he's sitting on a blue van, and provides a license number.
Floyd, 46, died in the ensuing interaction. Video shot by a bystander showed an officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes as he pleaded with the officer that he couldn’t breathe.