Violent protests escalated overnight in Minneapolis, the biggest city in the midwestern U.S. state of Minnesota, as demonstrations and riots have spread to other big cities across the country after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, pleaded “I can’t breathe” before dying in police custody earlier this week.
Minneapolis has been deeply damaged after three-night protests and riots, with fires burning and businesses looted.
The police precinct closest to where Floyd was captured on video with a white police officer kneeling on his neck was set on fire late Thursday night.
Donning protective helmets with face shields and carrying batons, state police were seen lining up Friday morning near the debris. Before state police arrived, the precinct was deserted after officers had been evacuated, local media reported.
Overnight, fires raged in Minneapolis as protesters shattered windows and charged over a fence to get access to the police precinct. In confrontations, police sprayed mace at protesters who got too close and they threw projectiles at police officers in response.
Elsewhere in the deeply shaken city, thousands of peaceful demonstrators marched through the streets, chanting George Floyd‘s name and “I can’t breathe,” local media reported.
“If you are feeling anger, or sadness, I get it. It is not only understandable, it is — it is righteous,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said on MSNBC Thursday night. “But we cannot allow that anger and sadness to so negatively impact our communities.”
While four officers involved in the case were fired, no arrests have been made. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Friday on CNN that he anticipates there will be charges brought against the officers involved.
Floyd, aged 46, died on Monday evening shortly after a police officer held him down with a knee on his neck though he repeatedly pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” and “please, I can’t breathe.” The police officer’s way of handling the man is not approved by the local police department.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on Thursday declared a state of emergency and activated the Minnesota National Guard to restore order.
Violent protests over Floyd’s death have flared up in a number of other cities across the United States.
In St. Paul, a next-door city in Minnesota, more than 170 businesses were damaged or looted overnight, the city’s police department said early Friday.
Seven people were shot in Louisville, Kentucky, during overnight protests over a separate case in which 26-year-old emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor, an African American woman, was shot dead by police in March.
On Thursday, some 40 people were arrested in New York City as more than 100 people gathered in Manhattan’s Union Square to express their anger over what they called police brutality that led to Floyd’s death. ABC said someone threw a trash can at police and another tried to grab an officer’s gun, while NBC reported that a protester punched an officer in the face.
Chaos also erupted in Colorado’s capital city Denver on Thursday. Several hundred protesters surrounded the state capitol and were finally dispersed after five hours of an angry protest in which several vehicles and buildings were burned. Gunshots were fired into the crowd but no one was hurt. Local news stations called the protest “unprecedented” and the most volatile for Denver in decades.
There have been protests and rallies in several other cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, Portland and Columbus in Ohio, demanding justice for Floyd.
Floyd’s plea before his death evoked African Americans‘ painful memories. In 2014, a cellphone recorded an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” when a New York officer held him in a chokehold before his death in police custody. Since then, the plea has become a rallying cry at demonstrations against police misconduct across the country.
Amid the national outrage, President Donald Trump on Friday morning called Minneapolis protesters “thugs” on Twitter, warning that he would send National Guard troops to the city and that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” the president tweeted. “Just spoke to Governor 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. Thank you!”
Twitter, which this week for the first time attached notes to tweets from Trump, added a warning label to his Minneapolis tweet for “glorifying violence.”
On the Democratic side, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said Floyd was “murdered” at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, calling it “an execution.”
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are pressing the U.S. Justice Department to open investigations into the Floyd and Taylor killings, as well as that of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed by two white residents in February while he was jogging through a neighborhood in south Georgia, according to a report by The Hill on Friday.
The tragedy came amid the coronavirus outbreak which has aggravated racial inequality in the country as African Americans are suffering a disproportionate share of the negative health and economic outcomes from the pandemic.
“We can’t ignore that we are in a country with an open wound right now, a wound far older and deeper than… George Floyd‘s killing,” presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Thursday.
“His final words, pleading for breathe. ‘Let me breathe, I can’t breathe.’ It’s ripped open anew this — this ugly underbelly of our society,” said the former vice president.