Minneapolis police station torched amid George Floyd protest
Livestream video showed protesters entering the building, where fire alarms blared as blazes were set
Cheering protesters torched a Minneapolis police station Thursday that the department was forced to abandon as three days of violent protests spread to nearby St. Paul and angry demonstrations flared across the U.S over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as a white police officer knelt on his neck.
A police spokesperson confirmed late Thursday that staff had evacuated the 3rd Precinct station, the focus of many of the protests, "in the interest of the safety of our personnel" shortly after 10 p.m. Livestream video showed the protesters entering the building, where fire alarms blared and sprinklers ran as blazes were set.
Protesters could be seen setting fire to a Minneapolis Police Department jacket and cheering.
Late Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump blasted the "total lack of leadership" in Minneapolis. "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," he said on Twitter.
Twitter added a warning to Trump's tweet about the Minneapolis protests, saying it violated the platform's rules about "glorifying violence." It did not remove the tweet, saying it had determined it might be in the public interest to have it remain accessible, something it does only for tweets by elected and government officials.
A user looking at Trump's timeline would have to click through the warning to see the original tweet. Earlier this week, Twitter applied fact checks to two of Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots.
....These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. 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!—@realDonaldTrump
Protests first erupted Tuesday, a day after Floyd's death in a confrontation with police captured on widely seen citizen video. On the video, Floyd can be seen pleading that he can't breathe as Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneels on his neck. As minutes pass, Floyd slowly stops talking and moving. The 3rd Precinct covers the portion of south Minneapolis where Floyd died.
Earlier Thursday, Walz activated the National Guard at the Minneapolis mayor's request, but it wasn't immediately clear when and where the Guard was being deployed, and none could be seen during protests in Minneapolis or St. Paul. The Guard tweeted minutes after the precinct burned that it had activated more than 500 soldiers across the metro area.
Dozens of businesses across the Twin Cities were boarding up their windows and doors Thursday in an effort to prevent looting, with the Minneapolis-based Target announcing it was temporarily closing two dozen area stores.
Minneapolis shut down nearly its entire light-rail system and all bus service through Sunday out of safety concerns.
In St. Paul, clouds of smoke hung in the air as police armed with batons and wearing gas masks and body armour kept a watchful eye on protesters along one of the city's main commercial corridors, where firefighters also sprayed water onto a series of small fires. At one point, officers stood in line in front of a Target, trying to keep out looters, who were also smashing windows of other businesses.
Hundreds of demonstrators returned Thursday to the Minneapolis neighbourhood at the centre of the violence, where the nighttime scene veered between an angry protest and a street party. At one point, a band playing in a parking lot across from the police's 3rd Precinct, the focus of the protests, broke into a punk version of Bob Marley's Redemption Song.
Nearby, demonstrators carried clothing mannequins from a looted Target and threw them onto a burning car. Later, a building fire erupted nearby.
But elsewhere in Minneapolis, thousands of peaceful demonstrators marched through the streets calling for justice.
Floyd's death has deeply shaken Minneapolis and sparked protests in cities across the U.S. Local leaders have repeatedly urged demonstrators to avoid violence.
St. Paul spokesperson Steve Linders said authorities have been dealing with unrest in roughly 20 different areas throughout the city.
"Please stay home. Please do not come here to protest. Please keep the focus on George Floyd, on advancing our movement and on preventing this from ever happening again. We can all be in that fight together," St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter tweeted.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey appealed for calm, too, but the city's response to the protests was quickly questioned as things started spiraling into violence.
WATCH: Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey urges calm after protests:
"If the strategy was to keep residents safe — it failed," City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who is black, tweeted. "Prevent property damage — it failed." On Thursday, he urged police to leave the scene of the overnight violence, saying their presence brings people into the streets.
Erika Atson, 20, was among several hundred people who gathered outside government offices in downtown Minneapolis, where organizers called for peaceful protest.
Atson, who is black, described seeing her 14- and 11-year-old brothers tackled by Minneapolis police years ago because officers mistakenly presumed the boys had guns. She said she had been at "every single protest" since Floyd's death, and worried about raising children who could be vulnerable in police encounters.
"We don't want to be here fighting against anyone. We don't want anyone to be hurt. We don't want to cause any damage," she said. "We just want the police officer to be held accountable."
Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said the rally had been peaceful and there had been no arrests by late evening.
But as the sun started to go down, crowds grew in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. In Minneapolis, protesters surrounded a police station, trying to breach a fence. Police responded by lobbing tear gas from the roof of the building. Fires were seen burning in several nearby buildings.
The governor's order did not say how many Guard members were mobilized or whether they would be in service Thursday night. After calling in the Guard, Walz called for widespread changes in the wake of Floyd's death.
"It is time to rebuild," the governor said. "Rebuild the city, rebuild our justice system, and rebuild the relationship between law enforcement and those they're charged to protect. George Floyd's death should lead to justice and systemic change, not more death and destruction."
Prosecutors said Thursday evening that they were not ready yet to lay any charges in the case. Erica MacDonald, the U.S. Attorney of the District of Minnesota, told reporters a "meticulous" investigation is underway.
19-year police veteran
The officer who put his knee on Floyd's neck was identified as Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force with a service record that includes three shootings, one of them fatal, and nearly 20 complaints.
Minneapolis city council records show Chauvin moonlighted as a bouncer at a downtown nightclub.
He was among a group of six officers who opened fire on a stabbing suspect in 2006 after a chase that ended when the suspect pointed a sawed-off shotgun at them. The suspect, Wayne Reyes, was hit multiple times and died. A grand jury decided the use of force was justified.
WATCH l Warning: Graphic video of police arresting Floyd:
Two years later, Chauvin shot a man as he was responding to a domestic dispute.
According to an account of the case in the Pioneer Press newspaper, a 911 operator received a call from an apartment and heard a woman yelling for someone to stop hitting her. Chauvin and another officer arrived just as a man locked himself in the bathroom. Chauvin forced his way into the bathroom. The man went for Chauvin's gun and Chauvin shot him twice in the stomach. The man survived and was charged with two counts of obstruction.
Chauvin was also among a group of five officers in 2011 who chased down a man in a housing complex after they spotted him running with a pistol. One of the officers, Terry Nutter, shot the man in the torso. He survived. All the officers were placed on leave but absolved of any wrongdoing, with Police Chief Timothy Dolan saying they acted "appropriately and courageously."
Chauvin and three other officers involved in the arrest of Floyd were fired Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Frey called for Chauvin to be criminally charged.
No charges laid
The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI in Minneapolis said Thursday they were conducting "a robust criminal investigation" into Floyd's death and making the case a priority. The announcement came a day after Trump tweeted that he had asked for the investigation to be expedited.
The FBI had already announced that it would investigate whether Floyd's civil rights were violated.
Meanwhile, the protests also spread to other cities in the U.S.
WATCH | George Floyd's death sparks days of protests, rioting:
In California, hundreds of people protesting Floyd's death blocked a Los Angeles freeway and shattered windows of California Highway Patrol cruisers on Wednesday.
Police in Memphis, Tenn., blocked a main thoroughfare after a group of protesters gathered outside a police precinct. The situation intensified later in the night, with police donning riot gear and protesters standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of officers stationed behind a barricade.
- An earlier version of this article stated that Twitter had deleted a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump concerning protests in Minneapolis. In fact, the social media platform has affixed a warning with the tweet, which is still visible, indicating it violated the company's rules about "glorifying violence."May 29, 2020 7:19 AM ET
With files from Reuters