MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Protests, tear gas and looting roiled the streets of Minneapolis for the second night in a row Wednesday as the city grappled with the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in custody of the police.
A crowd of hundreds surrounded the city’s 3rd Police Precinct, chanting slogans like “no justice, no peace, prosecute the police,” “I can’t breathe,” and “hands up, don’t shoot,” between bouts of tear gas, concussion grenades and rubber bullets from police.
A protester was shot to death, John Elder with the Minneapolis Police Department said in a press conference. Reports that a pawn store owner shot the protester are still under investigation, Elder added.
“The facts of what led up to the shooting are still being sorted out,” he said. “We are truly in the infancy of this investigation.”
Anti-police graffiti plastered the walls of neighboring businesses, and looters swapped bottles taken from a liquor store while others carried assorted items from a nearby Target, and late in the evening a fire started in a nearby AutoZone auto parts store.
Some protesters threw rocks and bottles at the assembled officers, while others assembled barricades from Target carts and attempted to stop the destruction of nearby businesses, to little avail.
“Get out of there, you little,” one man shouted as he chased away a teenager who had taken a bat to a tobacco store window. “That shit’s stupid.”
Another man chased another teenager away from spray painting the wall of his building, but made no effort to stop demonstrators from placing bottles of water, gallons of milk and a makeshift medical station near his front door.
A third, a self-proclaimed “deadhead hippie” and “veteran of these things” who refused to give his name, pointed protesters upwind of the clouds of tear gas emanating from the precinct.
Social distancing went largely, though not entirely, by the wayside as most of the protesters attempted to keep at least a few feet’s distance from each other.
Police made an estimated five arrests Tuesday night, police chief Medaria Arradondo said at a press conference early Tuesday evening. All five were burglary arrests at neighboring businesses.
Asked about his decision to authorize the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, Arradondo said that call was made after protesters entered the precinct’s secured parking lot, where cars with guns inside were parked. Damage to the precinct itself, he said, was less important than public safety.
“Yesterday, I directed our officers to practice restraint,” Arradondo said. “That meant, quite frankly, that a building, a city facility, was significantly damaged. But I’d rather have that than our officers being involved in an encounter where either they would be hurt physically or one person from our community gets hurt.”
The confrontation slowed to a lull as firefighters arrived to extinguish the AutoZone fire, with police lining up in front of the auto parts store, but crescendoed again shortly before 10 p.m. as protesters appeared to lob fireworks at the police.
According to Governor Tim Waltz’s office, the National Guard had been called in to help police control the situation.
Other demonstrators gathered at the site near Chicago Avenue and East 38th Street where now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on 48-year-old George Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes Monday evening. Floyd was pronounced dead an hour later.
Still others went to a home believed to belong to Chauvin in Oakdale, 16 miles from the Third Precinct, and that of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, demanding that Chauvin be charged with murder. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the protesters had standoffs with Oakdale police on Tuesday as well as Wednesday, and that graffiti proclaiming Chauvin a murderer was sprayed on his garage.
Chauvin, along with three other officers present at Floyd’s arrest, was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department Tuesday. Mayor Jacob Frey called for Freeman to press charges against Chauvin Wednesday morning, but none have yet been filed.
The mood at the Third Precinct protest was decidedly hostile. After a thunderstorm kept injuries low Tuesday night, Wednesday saw an ambulance transport a young man away from the scene with a head injury as early as 6:45 p.m., and by 8 p.m. several fights had broken out.
Around 9 p.m., a man in a gas mask could be seen on a livestream goading one officer to unload shot after shot of pepper spray at him.
“It’s just eyes,” another said after tear gas exposure sent him upwind. “This man died for nothing. I can deal with eyes.”
Julian Medved, a native of Minneapolis’ primarily black North Side who had come up from his new home in West St. Paul, said he’d arrived at the Third Precinct around 7 p.m. and was hit by a tear gas can early on.
“You have to be out here for this sort of thing,” he said. “You can’t just be silent.
“Everybody’s been real helpful today, making sure everyone’s got everything they need,” he added, gesturing toward the pile of milk and water jugs. He lamented a lack of on-the-ground media coverage, but namechecked leftist media nonprofit Unicorn Riot, which livestreamed late Tuesday and Wednesday nights as news helicopters circled overhead.
Jessica Garraway, a teacher, writer and protest veteran who was arrested in Iowa in connection with protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, spoke via phone while gathering supplies for the demonstrators.
“People were outraged when they saw the video of an innocent man being killed, despite the pleas from people surrounding him,” she said. “People are basically at this point of understanding that doing things the, quote-unquote, right way for so long hasn’t gotten results.”
As far as social distancing went, she said, she was pleased to see that many protesters were wearing masks, but that maintaining social distancing had become more difficult Wednesday.
“In regard to the coronavirus, this is on the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department,” she said. “We as a community had to go out and show our support and our solidarity with George, who was killed, so this is a necessity. This, too, is about the defense and safety of our community.
“I think it’s important to emphasize that there’s a connection between the protests and the response of the state to treating this matter seriously,” she added. “This is the first time, I believe, that officers have been fired. … This is the first time in the state that that’s happened. I don’t think we would have seen that if it weren’t for the response we saw yesterday, and that continued today.”
Another protester, who identified himself as John Rodriguez, said he’d known Floyd loosely from the dead man’s work as a bouncer at Conga Latin Bistro. He held a sign early in the evening that bore some of Floyd’s last words: “I can’t breathe.”
“Hopefully they do some justice for him,” he said.