A day after one of the most destructive and violent nights in Minneapolis history, Gov. Tim Walz and the mayors of the state’s two largest cities faced mounting criticism, with the governor calling the city’s response an “abject failure.”
As Walz vowed to restore order heading into the weekend, he acknowledged shortcomings in the response to protests late Thursday night and early Friday, which led to the evacuation and destruction of the city’s Third Precinct headquarters, as well as widespread looting and arson fires that set the city ablaze.
Officials hoped that murder and manslaughter charges brought Friday against Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in connection with Floyd’s death might help calm tensions. Just hours before the arrest and charges, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington called Floyd’s death a “murder.”
“I don’t want to prejudice this from a criminal perspective, but I’m just calling it like I see it at that point,” he said.
Walz activated the National Guard on Thursday at the request of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to aid in response to the protests over the death of George Floyd, who died after being forcibly restrained by police. St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter also requested assistance. Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Jon Jensen said cities typically give direction on what is needed from the guard — but that direction never came.
“We sort of knew what we might be doing as it related to civil disturbance in Minneapolis, but it’s very important we know exactly what we’re being asked to do so we have the right equipment, we mobilize the right number of soldiers,” Jensen said. “That element was lacking.”
In an interview Friday afternoon, Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said their police officers were “overwhelmed” with protests and violence, not just at the Third Precinct building on Lake Street but also across the city.
“We have never in my 30 years experienced multiple events of high-risk civil unrest, that included mass looting, indiscriminate arson with sounds of … gunshots, direct violence in confrontations with police, and all of these happening throughout our entire city,” Arradondo said. “These events over the last 72 hours absolutely overwhelmed our public safety response.”
As one example, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said he was unaware the Third Precinct building was on fire until he was told so by CNN host Don Lemon on Thursday night. Fruetel could not be reached for comment Friday.
Both Frey and Walz acknowledged that discussions took place earlier in the day about potentially evacuating the Third Precinct building, but ultimately Frey made the final call after discussions with the police chief. Arradondo said he became “gravely concerned” for his officers when protesters breached the building and entered inside.
Frey said the city and state need unity: “Going back and forth in a time of crisis does no good.”
St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen echoed that sentiment, saying it’s “easy to look backward and be critical.” She called it “an overwhelming and unprecedented situation, and we need to be working in partnership with all of our levels of government.”
State and city officials faced criticism over the lack of a visible police and National Guard presence Thursday night as dozens of buildings in both cities were burned or looted. Few arrests were made.
“Above all else, this is a failure in leadership, and that leadership rests on Gov. Walz’s shoulders. The governor cannot blame the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul,” said GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. He said Walz should have called in the National Guard right away and a couple of thousand guard members should have been activated, instead of hundreds. Gazelka also said he believes there needs to be more proactive arrests of people committing crimes, and a curfew should have been in place by Thursday.
Walz said that Thursday night he was following a process of waiting for Minneapolis leaders to request assistance before sending in the National Guard. “We were staying in the lane that we were asked to support this,” he said. But after watching the situation deteriorate around the Third Precinct, he said the decision was made shortly after midnight to move in. Soldiers arrived around 3:45 a.m. — by which time it had long been on fire.
Gazelka said Walz should not be asking others for a plan. “It was obvious that the Minneapolis mayor was in over his head. And I think that’s where the governor needed to respond with emergency powers and commander-in-chief over our National Guard — the National Guard was simply waiting for a plan of action,” Gazelka said.
Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, raised concerns about the coming weekend. “There has been a disturbing lack of leadership and clear plan on how we’re going to prevent further chaos with the weekend approaching,” he said in a statement. “City and state leaders knew that there would be more looting and riots last night, but took no visible steps to prevent the destruction.”
President Donald Trump, who spoke with Walz Thursday night, weighed in on the rioting later, singling out Frey for a “total lack of leadership” and saying he would send in the federal troops to “get the job done right.”
Walz called Trump’s remarks — including a tweet that said “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” — “unhelpful.” He called for balancing the outrage over the violent protests with an understanding of the despair and lack of trust that led to them.
“What the world has witnessed since the killing of George Floyd on Monday has been a visceral pain, a community trying to understand who we are and where we go from here,” he said. “We have to restore order to our society before we can start addressing the issues, before we turn back to where we should be spending our energy: making sure justice is served.”
Adding to the sense of confusion, Walz was forced to intervene early Friday in the State Patrol arrest of a CNN crew trying to cover the protests on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Walz publicly apologized to CNN President Jeff Zucker and the news media for the detention of the journalists, which was captured on live television.
Several arrests were made for arson and burglary, but it was only the arrest of the journalists that was broadcast to the public. “I take full responsibility,” Walz said, calling the episode “inexcusable.
Asked by reporters if he bore responsibility in the broader outcome of the protests, Walz said: “If the issue was that the state should have moved faster, that is on me.”
Walz promised a more coordinated law enforcement response led by the state heading into the weekend, when more protests are planned. He also declared a temporary curfew from 8 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday and again starting Saturday into Sunday.
Staff writers Emma Nelson, Jessie Van Berkel and Miguel Otárola contributed to this report.