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President Donald Trump promises action over the growing Minneapolis protests

By Reid Forgrave Star Tribune
Friday May 29, 2020

The Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct was set on fire on Thursday night. CARLOS GONZALEZ – STAR TRIBUN
The Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct was set on fire on Thursday night. CARLOS GONZALEZ – STAR TRIBUN

The Twin Cities convulsed with chaos for a third straight night of violent unrest Thursday in the wake of the Memorial Day death of George Floyd while being restrained on the neck by a Minneapolis police officer, another painful chapter in America’s — and Minnesota’s — long reckoning with law enforcement killings of unarmed black men.

Framed by grief and rage over Floyd’s death as well as uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic, the day and night came in tense waves: Buildings burned. The police chief apologized. Prayer circles formed at the site of Floyd’s killing. Business owners boarded up windows. Post offices closed. And then, as evening fell, there were widespread peaceful protests — but also more clashes with police and more fires.

The blazes included one at the Third Police Precinct station, the epicenter of the three nights of demonstrations, after crowds of protesters broke in and set fires inside and behind the building.

The unrest got the attention of President Donald Trump, who tweeted he "can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis."

Trump added that he had talked to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz "and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

Walz has called in reinforcements — the first time the Minnesota National Guard has been activated for a civil disturbance in 34 years. More than 500 Guard members have been activated and sent to Minneapolis, St. Paul and other communities, the Guard said in a tweet late Thursday.

"Our mission is to protect life, preserve property and the right to peacefully demonstrate. A key objective is to ensure fire departments are able to respond to calls," the Guard tweet said.

Meanwhile, county and federal prosecutors expressed disgust at Floyd’s killing while pleading for the public’s patience as they conduct an investigation and mull whether to charge Derek Chauvin, the police officer whose knee was pressed to Floyd’s neck as he died, or the other three officers present. The Hennepin County medical examiner mirrored that call for patience, saying an autopsy to determine a cause and manner for Floyd’s death cannot be rushed — even as protesters demanded that Chauvin swiftly be charged with murder.

“I will not rush justice,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “We have to do this right. We have to prove this in a court of law. … Please: Give me and give the United States attorney the time to do this right, and we will bring you justice — I promise.”

All over the Twin Cities, however, patience felt in short supply.

Floyd’s killing quickly has turned into an international story, with a White House spokeswoman calling the death “absolutely tragic” and noting the attorney general was briefing President Donald Trump.

In the Twin Cities, Thursday felt like a continued push and pull between city and state authorities pleading for calm and protesters fed up with the systemic racism they believe Floyd’s killing represents.

As Thursday’s sun rose on an idyllic late-May day in the Twin Cities, buildings still smoldered from fires lit during violent protests the night before. Near the corner of E. Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue — across the street from the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct headquarters — a Wendy’s restaurant was gone. So was a six-story affordable-housing apartment building in the middle of construction.

A burned-out AutoZone store was a husk of its former self. It felt more like a war zone than a busy commercial center. By night’s end, hundreds of buildings and businesses were damaged across the metro, and protesters overtook the Third Precinct headquarters as police evacuated.

Earlier in the day, glimmers of hope appeared. Scores of community members showed up in the Lake Street Target parking lot for a massive cleanup. Forces of restoration took over the spot where rioters had encamped hours before. National civil rights leaders appeared at protests: Jesse Jackson sported a sign saying, “Cowards kill the unarmed,” while Al Sharpton met with local leaders and protesters. Artists painted a mural of Floyd’s smiling face outside the Cup Foods grocery store on Chicago Avenue where he was killed.

At a late-morning news conference, Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins strode up to a podium, removed her face mask and sang part of “Amazing Grace,” echoing former President Barack Obama singing the hymn after the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C.

“We feel,” she said, referring to the black community in Minneapolis and nationwide, “as if there was a knee on all of our collective necks — a knee that says, ‘Black life does not matter to the institutions that dictate what happens in this culture and society.’ … Until we name this virus, this disease that has infected America for the past 400 years, we will never, ever resolve this issue.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey declared a local emergency, which runs until Sunday evening but can be extended by the City Council. The declaration gives him the ability to declare a curfew — he hadn’t as of Thursday evening — and is designed to make it easier to ask for help from other government agencies.

St. Paul, too, erupts

But by afternoon, rioting and looting had spread across the Mississippi River to St. Paul. One man was spotted smashing a boulder into an ATM at Big Top Liquors on W. University Avenue. And around 1:35 p.m., about a block from Minnesota United’s Allianz Field, Deryck Miller of St. Paul witnessed a shooting.

“A gentleman pulled out a gun and started shooting in this direction, and a person got out of that black car and ran away,” said Miller, who was helping a friend who owns an automotive shop in the Midway neighborhood. “It’s just been crazy out here.”

Miller estimated that 90% of nearby businesses had been looted. By evening, a nearby NAPA Auto Parts store had been set on fire. Metro Transit suspended all bus and light-rail service through the weekend. Target ordered 24 area stores to close until further notice. On Thursday night, Minnehaha Lake Wine & Spirits in Minneapolis was set ablaze.

The worst-struck parts of the Twin Cities had the feel of a cat-and-mouse game. When a police vehicle pulled up to a strip mall in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, where a large crowd had smashed windows of a Verizon store, a Noodles & Co. and a Vitamin Shoppe, the crowd immediately scattered, only to re-emerge elsewhere.

Police formed a barricade in front of a Target there. But no officers were at the T.J. Maxx store a block away, so looters smashed the door down and fled with shoes and clothing piled on shopping carts.

As the violence spread, Walz activated the National Guard — some 500 soldiers buttressed by 200 additional troopers from the State Patrol.

“It is time to rebuild. Rebuild the city, rebuild our justice system, and rebuild the relationship between law enforcement and those they’re charged to protect,” Walz said in a statement. Floyd’s death “should lead to justice and systemic change, not more death and destruction. 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.”

On Thursday, officials released the transcript of the 911 calls linked to Floyd’s death. A 911 operator received the call at 8:01 p.m. Monday from a clerk at Cup Foods about a man, later suspected to be Floyd, who had bought cigarettes with fake money.

The caller reported that the man was outside in his car and “is awfully drunk, and he’s not in control of himself.”

After obtaining a physical description of the man and a vehicle associated with him, the operator said, “All right, I’ve got help on the way. If that vehicle or that person leaves before we get there, just give us a call back, otherwise we’ll have squads out there shortly, OK?”

“No problem,” the caller replied.

Police arrived and detained a handcuffed Floyd on the pavement as he begged to be allowed to breathe. Medics arrived and took Floyd to HCMC. He was unresponsive and lacking a pulse when he arrived.

Staff writers Liz Navratil, Liz Sawyer, Ryan Faircloth, Miguel Otárola, Chao Xiong, Paul Walsh, Rochelle Olson, Ryan Faircloth, Matt McKinney, Andy Mannix and Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report. 

Reid Forgrave covers Minnesota and the Upper Midwest for the Star Tribune. H


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