Protesters late Thursday lobbed bottles, trampled a perimeter fence, broke windows and overran a Minneapolis police station that has become the epicenter of outrage over the death of George Floyd. Crowds continued to ransack the station, burn cars and fire guns in the air early Friday, and thick smoke hung over the city as fires burned into the morning.
It was near the station that four officers stopped Floyd, 46, on Monday in an encounter captured on video by bystanders. A shopkeeper had called police, saying someone had tried to use a fake $20 bill. One of the officers, who is white, knelt on Floyd's neck, ignoring the man's pleas that he couldn't breathe. Floyd, who was black, died soon after. All four officers have since been fired, but none have been charged in connection with the incident.
Minneapolis officials warned protesters overnight to stay away from the 3rd Precinct station, citing unconfirmed reports of cut gas lines and explosives in the building, but crowds lingered and fires continued to burn early Friday. National Guard troops and Minneapolis police protected fire trucks as firefighters fought several blazes.
Members of the Guard were also deployed to protect banks, grocery stores and pharmacies. Troops blocked access to streets where businesses had been damaged, marching side by side and block by block as they expanded the perimeter of their patrol.
Dozens of fires were also set in nearby St. Paul, where nearly 200 businesses were damaged or looted. Target, which is based in Minneapolis, announced that it was temporarily closing two dozen area stores after one branch was heavily looted and damaged.
In other parts of the Twin Cities, police in riot gear clashed repeatedly with protesters overnight. In Minneapolis, at least one person was injured in a stabbing during the chaos, the police said. The city has shut down nearly its entire light-rail system and all bus service through Sunday out of safety concerns.
And on Friday morning, a CNN television crew was arrested as they reported on the unrest. While live on air, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was handcuffed by the Minnesota State Patrol and led away, as were a CNN producer and a photojournalist. The news network said that the arrests were “a clear violation" of the crew's 1st Amendment rights and that Minnesota's governor has apologized for the arrest, calling it "totally unacceptable" and saying he would have the journalists released.
President Trump lashed out online about the chaos in the city, faulting the mayor.
"I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis," Trump tweeted. "A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right."
During a late-night briefing, Mayor Jacob Frey said he had decided to evacuate the 3rd Precinct because "the symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the importance of life, of our officers or our public. We could not risk serious injury to anyone."
Asked about the president's criticism, Frey initially appeared unaware, then became visibly upset as reporters read the tweet aloud.
"Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis," Frey said, adding: "We are going to get through this. ... Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions. Weakness is about pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis."
Trump also warned of an armed crackdown on looters, tweeting that "we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Twitter tagged the post as a violation of its rules "about glorifying violence" but allowed it to remain up.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz had announced he was deploying National Guard troops Thursday, but when they failed to appear by dusk, protesters lingered undeterred at the station and surrounding Longfellow neighborhood. Demonstrations intensified overnight after prosecutors announced they had not decided whether to charge the officers.
“We’re going to investigate it as expeditiously, as thoroughly and completely as justice demands,” Mike Freeman, the district attorney in surrounding Hennepin County, said at a briefing. “Sometimes that takes a little time, and we ask people to be patient.”
By dusk on Thursday, an unruly crowd of hundreds had gathered on Lake Street outside the 3rd Precinct station. Some carried signs that said "Jail all racist killer cops!" and "A badge is not a license to kill." Others looted an already pillaged Target and a boarded-up liquor store.
"The cops totally escalated things," said Jesse Mortenson, 37, a software developer who has been attending protests daily since they began Tuesday.
"People want a change really bad," said Mortenson, who was gathering signatures for an effort to defund the police.
The crowd swelled into the nearby Target store parking lot, with some throwing mannequins atop a car that had been set ablaze as a band played on the grass nearby. Many wore masks both to shield them during the pandemic and from the acrid air. Across the street, the ruins of an AutoZone and Aldi grocery store smoldered. Someone had spray-painted the words "Can you hear us now?" onto the boarded-up window of East Lake Clinic.
Anger over Floyd's death spread to other cities Thursday, including Albuquerque, Denver, New York, and Columbus, Ohio. In Denver, the State Capitol was placed on lockdown after someone fired a gun near a demonstration. In Columbus, crowds swarmed the state Capitol, breaking windows.
At least seven people were shot in Louisville, Ky., as protesters turned out to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman fatally shot by police in her home in March. Louisville Metro Police confirmed in a statement early Friday that there were at least seven shooting victims, at least one of whom is in critical condition. The statement said there were “some arrests,” but police didn't provide a number.
Protesters filled the streets of downtown Los Angeles for the second evening in a row Thursday, with demonstrators gathering outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters.
The U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI in Minneapolis said Thursday they were conducting “a robust criminal investigation” into the death. The FBI is also investigating whether Floyd’s civil rights were violated.
At a briefing Thursday, Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, once again decried Floyd's death, calling for the officer who knelt on him to be charged. Frey appealed for calm, tweeting: “Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy."
But outside the police station, tempers flared again Thursday evening. As darkness fell, a pawn shop down the street was set afire. Flames spread to the liquor store. The crowd surged toward the police station, rocking the perimeter fence until it tumbled.
Police appeared atop the roof, firing tear gas and flash-bang grenades into the melee. As tear gas swirled, other protesters gulped milk to ease the sting of the gas, tore plywood from the windows of looted businesses to use as shields and continued their advance on the battered building, its windows shattered.
A police spokesman confirmed that the station had been evacuated “in the interest of the safety of our personnel" shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
Down the street, Jerry Starr prepared for a new onslaught of looting at his auto shop. Neighbors armed with bats and a baton camped out in his parking lot to defend the block in the absence of police, who they said had not patrolled since protests began. So far, they said, they had kept marauding crowds from entering a nearby liquor store and diner.
"The mayor should be fired," Starr, 59, said as he scanned the street. "This all could have been prevented."
A looter passed, crowing about how he'd raided Target without seeing a single police officer. He brandished a handgun, which he fired a few times in the air as he left. Cars zoomed by without license plates — apparently stolen from nearby auto shops.
"Where's the National Guard?" Starr said.
They wouldn't appear for another hour, and not on his side of Lake Street. The COVID-19 pandemic had already devastated his business. He'd lost half of his customers and had to lay off two of his four staff.
"I've never in my life seen anything like this," Starr said. "I don't know what to do."
Dozie Melvin, 30, who lives in the neighborhood, stood next to his car on Lake Street sipping a drink as he reveled in the chaos of shattering windows, chirping alarms and billowing smoke, which he said felt like a step toward justice.
The black father of five said he’s tired of living in fear of police officers like the one who knelt on Floyd. “We’re human beings,” said Melvin. “I’m 100% sure if they charge him tomorrow, this will all stop.”
Until then, he said, expect the protests to spread.“We’re going to the next neighborhood, too, if they don’t hear us,” he said. “It’s going around the world.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.