Unrest spilled into St. Paul's Midway district Thursday as looters ambushed stores and pelted police cars with rocks, bricks and liquor bottles, a violent outgrowth of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

Officers responded to the Target store on University Avenue around 11:30 a.m. and found 50 to 60 people grabbing merchandise off the shelves without paying, police spokesman Steve Linders said. Many dropped the goods and ran when authorities arrived.

A fight broke out in the parking lot between a pedestrian and driver who reportedly tried to run down the person. The motorist missed and hit another vehicle.

"We continue to work to disperse the crowds, protect people and protect property," according to a statement issued late Thursday afternoon by St. Paul police. "However, our officers continue to be assaulted, and the area is not safe."

As afternoon turned to evening, further mayhem surfaced on University Avenue, where a police tweet reported that a large fire had broken out at a NAPA Auto Parts store.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said the scale of looting was unlike anything he'd seen in his 32-year career.

"We are going to hold offenders accountable, whether that's today or down the road in the future," he said.

Reinforcements were on the way Thursday evening, Axtell said, including 75 state troopers and the National Guard. The department also was calling in additional staffers and adjusting deployment schedules for the nighttime hours, he said.

Both Axtell and Mayor Melvin Carter pleaded for peace, while at the same time saying they understood the anger generated by Floyd's death.

"For all of us who lament the death of Mr. Floyd, for all of us whose fathers, whose sons, whose nephews, whose selves that could have been, our demand has to be that we take this energy and channel it towards helping prevent something like that from ever happening again," Carter said.

Looters on Thursday afternoon broke windows, stormed through battered-down doors and snatched clothes, phones, shoes, and other merchandise from shops along University Avenue near the intersection of Pascal Street.

Officers formed a barricade in front of Target but none were at the T.J. Maxx store a block away, where looters smashed the door down and fled with shoes and heaps of clothing piled on shopping carts.

Watching people run in and out of T.J. Maxx, area resident Johnnie Capers said he failed to see the logic in looting local businesses.

"I'll be the first to say that protest without unrest is useless, but … you've got to send that unrest to those that's in power," he said. "Don't inflict it on yourself."

Gunfire rang out on University near Pascal about 1:35 p.m. A man who heard the shots, Deryck Miller, said it happened in front of his friend's auto body shop, which he was guarding against looters.

"I saw a gentleman pull out a gun and start shooting in this direction," he said, pointing to a black sedan that was wedged against a red pickup truck in front of the auto body shop. The driver of the black car was the intended target, Miller said, but he crashed into the truck, abandoned the car and fled on foot.

Looters ran past Miller on Pascal Street as he spoke, carrying boxes of shoes and clothing from Sports Dome, a longtime University Avenue business.

On St. Paul's East Side, vandals broke into Cub Foods and its liquor store at the Sun Ray Shopping Center. Police had shut down the mall by about 3:30 p.m., but even as officers filled the parking lot in front, people were driving in the back and grabbing boxes of bottles from the liquor store.

Roseville police Lt. Erika Scheider said they received reports of looting at Rosedale Center, Target, Walmart, Cub Foods, Best Buy, Pawn America and two cell phone stores.

"We responded to a number of looting calls throughout the city. Rosedale had a large group that was able to breach the doors and get inside," Scheider said.

Officers were able to stop the looting, but she said she had not yet received damage reports.

Floyd's death has made a protest target of the Oakdale home of Derek Chauvin, the now-fired police officer who held his knee to Floyd's neck for several minutes Monday night.

Protesters gathered Wednesday outside Chauvin's house and were ordered by police later that night to disperse after their assembly was deemed unlawful, Oakdale officials said in a statement.

While many did comply, a large crowd defied the orders, prompting police to spray them with a chemical irritant, according to officials.

Five people were arrested, cited for unlawful assembly and released. One person was also charged with obstructing police and jailed.

A smaller protest continued Thursday at Chauvin's home, with about 20 people waving signs at passing cars as police tried to limit traffic to the people who needed to be there.

A photographer at the house Thursday morning appeared to stage a shot in the officer's driveway by encouraging two people to spray "Kill Pig Cops" on the garage door, according to Jennifer Kennetz of St. Paul. She said the woman claimed to be a magazine photographer and tried to persuade Kennetz and others to pose for her near the home.

Kennetz said she later saw the photographer persuade a young couple to spray paint the garage door while recording it with her cellphone. Police confiscated the phone, Kennetz said, and an Oakdale police spokeswoman confirmed the incident was under investigation.

Mail carriers were pulled from their routes late in the delivery day Thursday on both sides of the Twin Cities, said U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Nicole Hill. She cited an "abundance of caution" to keep carriers safe in or near areas most affected by the street unrest.

"The safety of our employees is our top priority," said Postmaster Shawneen Betha. "We value our customers and appreciate their support as we make these decisions."

While the Postal Service expected to resume normal operations Friday, Hill said, the agency's inspection service "is working diligently" to make a final determination.

Star Tribune staff writers Liz Sawyer, Shannon Prather and Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.