Protesters overran and set aflame the 3rd Precinct headquarters of the Minneapolis Police Department late Thursday night.
Officers appeared to abandon the building at Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue about 10 p.m., after protesters pulled down a wire fence that surrounded the precinct.
Flames overtook the building’s front entrance about half an hour later. Minnehaha Lake Wine & Spirits across the street was also burning, after being looted of most of its contents over the past 24 hours.
The third precinct and Minnehaha Lake Wine & Spirits in Minneapolis are now on fire. pic.twitter.com/UlM1U6ZkO8
— Nick Woltman (@nickwoltman) May 29, 2020
There appeared to be no remaining police presence in the area as protesters celebrated with fireworks in the intersection of Minnehaha and Lake.
A police spokesman confirmed late Thursday that staff had evacuated the 3rd Precinct station, the focus of many of the protests, “in the interest of the safety of our personnel” shortly after 10 p.m.
The protesters are demanding change after the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died while in police custody two miles from the 3rd Precinct headquarters. Four officers have been fired, including one seen on video with his knee of Floyd’s neck as he gasped for breath, and state and federal investigations are underway.
Hundreds of demonstrators returned Thursday to the South Minneapolis neighborhood at the center of the violence, where the nighttime scene veered between an angry protest and a street party. At one point, a band playing in a parking lot across from the police’s 3rd Precinct, the focus of the protests, broke into a punk version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Nearby, demonstrators carried clothing mannequins from a looted Target and threw them onto a burning car. Later, a building fire erupted nearby.
Elsewhere in Minneapolis, thousands of peaceful demonstrators marched through the streets calling for justice.
Floyd’s death has deeply shaken Minneapolis and sparked protests in cities across the U.S. Local leaders have repeatedly urged demonstrators to avoid violence.
“Please stay home. Please do not come here to protest. Please keep the focus on George Floyd, on advancing our movement and on preventing this from ever happening again,” tweeted St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who is black.
Erika Atson, 20, was among thousands of people who gathered outside government offices in downtown Minneapolis, where organizers had called a peaceful protest. Many protesters wore masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, but there were few attempts at social distancing.
Atson, who is black, described seeing her 14- and 11-year-old brothers tackled by Minneapolis police years ago because officers mistakenly presumed the boys had guns. She said she had been at “every single protest” since Floyd’s death and worried about raising children who could be vulnerable in police encounters.
“We don’t want to be here fighting against anyone. We don’t want anyone to be hurt. We don’t want to cause any damages,” she said. “We just want the police officer to be held accountable.”
Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said the rally had been peaceful and there had been no arrests by late evening.
Much of the Minneapolis violence occurred in the Longfellow neighborhood, where protesters converged on the precinct station of the police who arrested Floyd. In a strip mall across the street from the 3rd Precinct, the windows in nearly every business had been smashed, from the large Target 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.
Among the casualties of the overnight fires: a six-story building under construction that was to provide nearly 200 apartments of affordable housing.
Same view, roughly 18 hours apart. This was a six-story affordable housing complex under construction at 29th Street and 26th Avenue in Minneapolis, about a block from the third precinct. At its peak, the fire was twice as tall as the building itself. pic.twitter.com/SS0fXdIvjQ
— Nick Woltman (@nickwoltman) May 29, 2020
“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.” No officers could be seen beyond the station.
“What that cop did was wrong, but I’m scared now,” Brown said.
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.
Mayor Jacob Frey appealed for calm but the city’s response to the protests was quickly questioned as things started spiraling into violence.
“If the strategy was to keep residents safe — it failed,” City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who is black, tweeted. “Prevent property damage — it failed.” On Thursday, he urged police to leave the scene of the overnight violence, saying their presence brings people into the streets.
President Donald Trump weighed in shortly before midnight, tweeting, “I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis.” He also called the protesters “THUGS” and said either the “weak Radical Left Mayor” should bring the city under control “or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right.”
“Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he added on Twitter.
But Eric Kowalczyk, a police captain in Baltimore during the Freddie Gray riots in 2015, generally supported the Minneapolis police strategy to avoid confrontations with protesters when possible, saying heavy-handed police responses are only met with more violence.
“Nobody wants to see their city on fire, but at the same time, you don’t want to see citizens injured by the very police department they are protesting,” he said.
Protests have also spread to other U.S. cities. In New York City, protesters defied New York’s coronavirus prohibition on public gatherings Thursday, clashing with police, while demonstrators blocked traffic in downtown Denver. A day earlier, demonstrators had taken to the streets in Los Angeles and Memphis.
In Louisville, Ky., police confirmed that at least seven people had been shot Thursday night as protesters demanded justice for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was fatally shot by police in her home in March.
Amid the violence in Minneapolis, a man was found fatally shot Wednesday night near a pawnshop, possibly by the owner, authorities said.
Fire crews responded to about 30 intentionally set blazes, and multiple fire trucks were damaged by rocks and other projectiles, the fire department said. No one was hurt by the blazes.
The city on Thursday released a transcript of the 911 call that brought police to the grocery store where Floyd was arrested. The caller described someone paying with a counterfeit bill, with workers rushing outside to find the man sitting on a van. The caller described the man as “awfully drunk and he’s not in control of himself.” Asked by the 911 operator whether the man was “under the influence of something,” the caller said: “Something like that, yes. He is not acting right.” Police said Floyd matched the caller’s description of the suspect.