With the Twin Cities under curfew for a second night, security forces moved aggressively through the streets to disperse protesters with tear gas, pepper spray and drawn weapons.
Scattered scenes throughout Minneapolis went from peaceful to tense to confrontational Saturday night as some citizens ignored the 8 p.m. state-mandated curfew and took to the streets to express their anger over George Floyd’s death after being detained by police. But most people stayed home, and there were few reports of the fires, looting and property damage of previous nights that had left much of the city on edge.
Officials credited the far larger presence of the Minnesota National Guard. The Guard said its force has grown from 700 deployed on Friday to more than 4,100 on patrol or waiting their turn, with that number positioned to grow past 10,000.
Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said at an early Sunday press briefing the strategy was a comprehensive approach, combining an “unprecedented” Guard presence that had a clear mission, more first responders at the ready and help from community leaders in telling people to stay home.
Dozens were arrested throughout the evening, but no serious injuries were reported, he said. He added that while officials “made progress,” the state is not out of the woods yet. He said he doesn’t think they need help from federal troops, but officials haven’t ruled that out.
“I think [Minnesotans] should rest a little easier tonight,” he said. “We feel we are in a good place.”
He expects the Guard presence to continue Sunday evening. “It is critical for us to remain diligent, and I know that’s the governor’s commitment.”
One force's troopers moved against demonstrators in the area north of Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue, throwing tear gas bombs and effectively dispersing much of the crowd. They continued to advance en masse against the scattering crowd as smoke and tear gas obscured views. A few protesters re-emerged after scattering, and were again greeted with barrages of tear gas.
In the space of 20 minutes, the huge crowd that had been outside the Fifth Precinct was down to just a few people. Near the Lake Street Kmart, law enforcement pushed agitated protesters under a highway overpass, where they created makeshift barricades and chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot!” A line of officers in riot gear a half-block away began firing projectiles.
Police along Lake and behind bullhorns declared the protest unlawful and warned of arrests, sending people into retreat.
Tyler Johnson, 20, of Plymouth, said he was marching toward downtown Minneapolis after dark not only for Floyd but so that his days-old baby sister could be safe when she’s older. Other than his best friend, Johnson didn’t know any of the other marchers, but “they’re family now.” The theme of the march is peace, he said, and he’s not worried about the curfew.
“We’ll march until we’re heard; til our feet start bleeding,” he said.
Queen Jacobs, 26, led a peaceful group of young protesters along Franklin Avenue, where they were later met by a blockade of police and National Guard. As authorities began to close in, the group took a knee in the street and called for a moment of silence for George Floyd. The standoff ended peacefully, with the group turning around at the Guard’s order.
“We’re just trying to make sure that this group of protesters stays safe,” said Jacobs, of Minneapolis. She said the violent events of recent nights have left her exhausted and without an appetite.
The push against the crowds diminished gatherings but also created a game of cat and mouse in some areas. St. Paul police said about 9:20 p.m. that its officers were heading to the Lake Street/Marshall Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River, where protesters from Minneapolis were hoping to cross.
A half-hour later, St. Paul police moved on protesters on the bridge and made arrests. Others on the bridge retreated amid tear gas.
In an east metro suburb, West St. Paul police responded to several reports of shots fired. Police said officer are stopping several vehicles, most with no license plates. There were no reports of injuries or confirmation that these reports were related to the week’s unrest in St. Paul or Minneapolis.
A blaze earlier in the evening was reported atop a shopping mall in the 3000 block of Nicollet Avenue. Police said a fire “strike team” was quickly dispatched in response.
State Patrol troopers have made “several” weapons arrests at 28th Street and S. Grand Avenue in south Minneapolis, the state Department of Public Safety said in a statement. An AR-15 style firearm was confiscated, the department said.
Sticking to curfew
State transportation officials late Saturday afternoon used large maintenance trucks to close interstates at 7 p.m. in an effort to keep people home and out of the Twin Cities.
To the east, where dozens of stores and the Third Precinct police station were severely damaged earlier in the week, the clock struck 8 and phones buzzed with the emergency notice.
“C’mon,” yelled a woman to her young daughter as she climbed into the car. “It’s curfew.”
Speaking just after 10:30 p.m., Gov. Tim Walz thanked members of the public who cleared the streets by 8 so law enforcement could focus on “those who meant to bring chaos.”
Many of the people out Saturday afternoon not only carried signs and chanted slogans championing justice for Floyd, who was 46 when he died Monday, but they took up brooms and other tools as cleanup crews swept up debris from businesses burned and looted by the dozens along Lake Street, Nicollet Avenue, Minnehaha Avenue and other major thoroughfares.
Block after block along Lake Street were storefronts protected by hastily nailed-up plywood. Even in near-ring suburbs, many gas stations and other retailers were closed and boarded up before the curfew hit.
At E. 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue, where Floyd was pinned under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer who now stands charged in his death, music blared over loudspeakers as food smoked on grills and flowers ringed messages of hope and determination chalked on the pavement: “Together we rise” and “We already miss you George and we won’t forget” next to a giant 1960s-era peace sign. Visitors snapped photos or sat in silence at the memorial’s edge.
Along one wall of the Cup Foods store is a mural with “George” and “Floyd” in giant yellow letters spreading like wings from his visage.
Walz said at his pre-curfew news conference that he was at the afternoon gatherings, and he noticed “a sense of solidarity, a sense of trying to channel grief and rage and anger into something positive.
“Large numbers of people brought things with them. They didn’t bring explosive devices. They brought brooms, they brought shovels, they brought wheel barrows to clean up for people they didn’t know, but knew they were their neighbors.”
Staff writers Pamela Miller, Matt McKinney, Chao Xiong and Chris Serres contributed to this report.