A wounded Minneapolis braced for more violence Thursday, a day after rioting over the death of a handcuffed black man in police custody reduced parts of one neighborhood to a smoking shambles, with burned buildings, looted stores and angry graffiti demanding justice.
The unrest ravaged several blocks in that neighborhood, with scattered rioting reaching for miles across the city. After two consecutive nights of violent protests following the death of George Floyd, Mayor Jacob Frey urged the governor to activate the National Guard. Another protest was announced for Thursday evening near county offices downtown.
Some stores planned to close early, fearing more strife. The city shut down its light-rail system and planned to stop all bus service “out of concern for the safety of riders and employees,” a statement said.
Fears deepened after a destructive night focused on the death of Floyd, who was seen on video gasping for breath during an arrest on Monday in which an officer kneeled on his neck for almost eight minutes. In the footage recorded by a bystander, Floyd can be heard pleading that he can’t breathe until he slowly stops talking and moving.
By Thursday morning, smoke rose from smoldering buildings in the city’s Longfellow neighborhood, scene of the worst violence. In a strip mall across the street from the police’s 3rd Precinct station, the focus of the previous night’s protests, the windows in nearly every business had been smashed, from the large Target department store at one end to the Planet Fitness gym at the other. Only the 24-hour laundromat appeared to have escaped unscathed.
“WHY US?” demanded a large expanse of red graffiti scrawled on the wall of the Target. A Wendy’s restaurant across the street was charred almost beyond recognition.
“We’re burning our own neighborhood,” said a distraught Deona Brown, a 24-year-old woman standing with a friend outside the precinct station, where a small group of protesters were shouting at a dozen or so stone-faced police officers in riot gear. “This is where we live, where we shop, and they destroyed it.”
“What that cop did was wrong, but I’m scared now,” Brown said.
But others in the crowd saw something different in the wreckage.
Protesters destroyed property “because the system is broken,” said a young man who identified himself only by his nickname, Cash, and who said he had been in the streets during the violence. He dismissed the idea that the destruction would hurt residents of the largely black neighborhood.
“They’re making money off of us,” he said angrily of the owners of the destroyed stores. He laughed when asked if he had joined in the looting or violence: “I didn’t break anything.”
The protests that began Wednesday night and extended into Thursday were more violent than Tuesday’s, which included skirmishes between offices and protesters but no widespread property damage or looting.
Mayor Jacob Frey appealed for calm. “Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy,” he said on Twitter.
Protests also spread to other U.S. cities. In California, hundreds of people protesting Floyd’s death blocked a Los Angeles freeway and shattered windows of California Highway Patrol cruisers. Memphis police blocked a main thoroughfare after a racially mixed group of protesters gathered outside a police precinct. The situation intensified later in the night, with police donning riot gear and protesters standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of officers stationed behind a barricade.
Amid the violence in Minneapolis, a man was found fatally shot Wednesday night near a pawn shop, possibly by the owner, authorities said.
Fire crews responded to about 30 intentionally set blazes during the protests, including at least 16 structure fires, and multiple fire trucks were damaged by rocks and other projectiles, the fire department said. No one was hurt by the blazes.
There was no sign of police at the destroyed shopping center, though a couple dozen were outside the precinct house. One man standing outside the building was using a bullhorn to shout. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. Mama, I can’t breathe,” repeating some of Floyd’s pleas for relief.
Across from the precinct, someone had spray-painted the sidewalk in red: “Where’s humanity?”
The 46-year-old Floyd died as police arrested him outside a convenience store after a report of a counterfeit bill being passed. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in Minneapolis said Thursday they were conducting “a robust criminal investigation” into the death and making the case a priority. The announcement came a day after President Donald Trump tweeted that he had asked an investigation to be expedited.
The FBI is also investigating, with a probe focused on whether Floyd’s civil rights were violated.
The officer who kneeled on Floyd and three others were fired Tuesday. The next day, the mayor called for him to be criminally charged.
Frey appealed to Gov. Tim Walz to activate the National Guard, a spokesman confirmed Thursday. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Walz tweeted for calm Wednesday night, calling the violence “an extremely dangerous situation” and urging people to leave the scene.
The last time the Minnesota National Guard was called out to deal with civil unrest was in a backup role during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. The most comparable situation to the current disturbances happened when the Guard was called up to deal with the riots in Minneapolis in 1967, a summer when anger over racial inequalities came to a boil in many cities across the country.
The Minnesota National Guard was also called out during protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s and during a 1986 strike by Hormel meatpackers in Austin.
Associated Press writers Amy Forliti and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis, Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.