Less than six hours after crowds gathered on Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall on Wednesday night, the first Minnesota National Guard soldiers were placed on active duty.
City and state officials worked together at a far faster pace Wednesday than they did in late May, when rioting, looting and arson erupted across the city for several days following George Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police.
On Thursday, they attributed that speedier response to several factors: They learned lessons in the aftermath of Floyd's death, when nearly a day passed while city and state leaders jockeyed over the Guard's mission. The crowds that gathered Wednesday night were smaller, and their characteristics were different. Officials are also talking more frequently as they plan for the possibility that rioting might break out periodically during a summer of racial reckoning.
"There will still be flash points in our city, and so we are making sure that we're prepared," Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Thursday.
Arradondo had a preplanned meeting Wednesday with leaders from other law enforcement agencies in the region. The chief said those briefings, which have been held regularly since Floyd's death, have allowed them to better prepare for some scenarios. "When the mayor called [the National Guard] up, it was able to happen much quicker," Arradondo said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Minneapolis police responded to a killing at a parking ramp downtown and quickly identified a suspect, Eddie Frank Sole Jr., 38. Later, about 6 p.m., he killed himself as officers approached him on Nicollet Mall. On social media, some people falsely said officers had killed him, and crowds quickly began to gather.
After Floyd's killing, rioters often piggybacked on peaceful protests about systemic racism and police brutality.
On Wednesday night, police and elected officials said they didn't see any organized efforts or any clear leaders among the crowd. Instead, they saw many small groups acting in isolation and scattering in different directions. Some broke windows. Others lit fires. Occasionally, people chased one another.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Arradondo contacted community leaders who have been involved in past, peaceful protests. Some of them went downtown to speak to people and try to dispel the rumor that officers had killed Sole.
At 9:30 p.m., Frey announced publicly that he had requested the Minnesota National Guard. Shortly before 11 p.m., Gov. Tim Walz announced he was mobilizing them, and the National Guard said 45 soldiers were on active duty by midnight. On Thursday afternoon, they said 100 soldiers were working and another 300 were being called in.
Walz said Thursday that the experience in May demonstrated to him and other officials "how fast these things could accelerate."
The governor also said he felt he had a clearer mission, a topic that was a key point of contention between his administration and Minneapolis officials in the days following Floyd's killing.
"I cannot put National Guard on the street without a clear mission and I think what we understood is their mission was in support of law enforcement," he said Thursday. "I think what you saw last night was coordination from those lessons learned."
The circumstances were also different this week. The rioting and arson began within a few hours of Sole's death. The crowds that gathered in the early hours after Floyd's death were largely peaceful; as the days passed, and as police used controversial tactics, the rioting and arson accelerated.
At 6:29 p.m. May 27, two days after Floyd's death, Frey called Walz and asked for the National Guard to help quell the unrest. At 2:30 p.m. the next day, Walz activated the Guard. In the interim, city and state employees exchanged a flurry of messages about the request for the National Guard.
Walz has said they didn't feel they had a clear enough mission to safely send in the Guard. Frey has said he felt Walz hesitated and that the city was working hard to get them everything they needed.
In the days that followed Floyd's death, Walz and Frey tried to strike a balance, distinguishing between the people peacefully protesting racism in policing and the people setting fires and looting stores.
On Thursday, both of them said they saw a clear difference between the people who caused the destruction this week and people who have protested peacefully in the past.
"As an organized and a civil society we have to have a social compact that these types of things don't happen," Walz said.
In a separate news conference aimed at encouraging people to keep the peace into the night, Frey expressed a deep respect for people who protest peacefully, but said what he saw along Nicollet Mall this week didn't fit that definition.
"Those who came downtown last night for righteous reasons, out of concern for our community, were used," the mayor said. "They were used as cover by people with different aims."
Staff writers Reid Forgrave and Abby Simons contributed to this report.