Minnesota leaders hoped cautiously Monday for continued de-escalation of tensions in the aftermath of George Floyd’s deadly encounter with Minneapolis police, even as President Donald Trump threatened to mobilize the military to tamp down unrest elsewhere in the country.
Gov. Tim Walz talked of pulling back a portion of more than 7,000 National Guard members that had been called in to help quell violence in the metro area. Hours were reduced on a Twin Cities curfew first issued days earlier, and officials planned to leave freeways open, unlike previous nights.
The state was in “a much more stable position,” National Guard Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen said Monday, though he emphasized that the Guard’s presence in the Twin Cities would look the same as it had over the weekend. Other units, which had been waiting at armories to step in if needed, could return home if leaders deemed it OK, he said.
The day marked a week of protests demanding justice for Floyd, who pleaded that he couldn’t breathe and fell unresponsive while a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes — an incident filmed by a bystander. Local and state leaders continued to urge peaceful protests while promising to work for change.
As the 10 p.m. curfew came and went, police moved in on a group of peaceful demonstrators who spent the evening at the Minnesota State Capitol. At Cup Foods, the site of Floyd’s fatal encounter with police that has become a memorial, the crowd grew slightly agitated awaiting the arrival of police, who by 10:30 had not made an appearance. A bus was parked a couple blocks away, and it was unclear whether police were preparing to make arrests. Helicopters flew overhead.
Thousands of demonstrators had gathered outside the governor’s residence Monday afternoon in St. Paul, demanding that all four officers on the scene of Floyd’s arrest be jailed and prosecuted. Though all four officers had been fired, only officer Derek Chauvin had been arrested and charged, with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The case was turned over Sunday to state Attorney General Keith Ellison.
About 30 St. Paul police officers took a knee on the outskirts of the crowd, including black officer Antwan Denson, who shed tears while he knelt with his fist in the air as protesters chanted Floyd’s name. The protesters then asked the officers to leave, saying they made their point.
Loretta VanPelt, with Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, said she is tired of protesting for the same change nearly five years after Jamar Clark was killed by Minneapolis police officers who were not prosecuted.
“We feel like we’ve done this over and over again and we’ve had enough of it, really, but you know, the fight has to continue because we’re not seeing that justice,” she said. “They have to start listening to us now. I mean, your city’s burned into the ground. They have to listen to us.”
Floyd’s niece, Angel Buechner of St. Paul, said she’d been shouting for justice on the street for five days.
“People loved him,” she said. “Twenty … dollars is not a death sentence.”
At the State Capitol, hundreds of protesters gathered after the demonstration at the governor’s residence ended.
Fiery speeches on the Capitol lawn called for revolution. At one point, the crowd knelt silently for 60 seconds in memory of Floyd.
Outside Cup Foods, about a thousand people applauded and chanted while listening to speakers.
Larry Thomas had hopped on a plane from Sacramento, Calif., to be part of the movement in Minneapolis. Thomas, who works in private security, said he feels sorry for law enforcement as well as for the public. He said the violent protests have sometimes taken away “the meaning of why people are showing up. It’s causing rifts.
“This is how it should be,” he said, gesturing to the peaceful but passionate crowd.
Rose McGee, founder of Sweet Potato Comfort Pies, arrived with about 20 pies, each baked by a different volunteer. McGee, of Golden Valley, started her outreach by bringing pies to Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer.
“Right now, black people are in a lot of pain,” McGee said. “I consider the sweet potato pie the sacred dessert of black people. It was there all throughout the civil rights movement.”
In a speech at the Rose Garden, Trump called for an end to rioting and lawlessness that had spread across the country, as police used tear gas and other force against protesters outside the White House gates.
“We will end it now,” Trump said, and recommended that every governor deploy the National Guard to “dominate the streets.”
“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Walz said he had been getting calls from other state leaders as some protests across the nation had turned violent.
He said he told them they would need a large-scale coordinated response from law enforcement to stem violence, but that that would not solve the real problem of systemic racism.
Walz said that was discussed during a Monday call with Trump and other governors, where Trump called governors “weak” for failing to use force to confront protesters and said if they didn’t “dominate” the streets, “they’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
Trump called Minnesota “a laughingstock all over the world” for the way it handled protests earlier, according to audio of the call obtained by news organizations.
Walz said his point to the president was, “Saying the world was laughing at the states who aren’t taking action — I said, ‘No one’s laughing here. We’re in pain, we’re crying. We saw a man lose his life in front of them.’ ”
While many Twin Cities residents had been on edge Sunday night as rumors circulated of extremists coming in from elsewhere, Walz said Monday that he got “out over my skis” when he had said that most of the destructive rioters were people coming from outside the area. He said officials were still trying to get a better understanding of the situation.
State Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said police documented only two vehicles without license plates in the metro — though community members and reporters have seen more. Harrington said they did have evidence of some propane tanks, like those used for grilling, stashed around Minneapolis.
Wearing a cap and gown, Rachel Garrison, 17, carried a handwritten protest sign in front of the burned-out Minnehaha Liquors on Lake Street. Days before, she graduated as valedictorian from North Education Center in Robbinsdale.
“This is how adulthood started for me,” she said, adding that she grew up in the area. “For once our city stood up for what was right.”
Staff writers John Reinan, Kim Hyatt, Rochelle Olson and Eric Roper and the Washington Post contributed to this report.