Minneapolis protests turn violent as outrage grows over death of George Floyd

  • >>The New York Times
    Published: 2020-05-29 02:49:40 BdST

A wave of protests erupted across South Minneapolis overnight and into Thursday, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets as people set buildings on fire and looted stores days after George Floyd, an African American man, died in police custody.

Ash was falling Thursday morning at a shopping centre on Lake Street, where a recently renovated Target had been defaced and looted. A nearly completed apartment development across the street had been burned to its concrete lower floor. Other commercial structures were also badly damaged.

Mayor Jacob Frey pleaded on Twitter for people to stay at home. “Please, please Minneapolis,” he wrote, “we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy. Please, help us keep the peace. Stay safe and evacuate the area.”

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, he said the destructive protests were a reflection of the black community’s anger over 400 years of inequality.

“What we’ve seen over the last two days and the emotion-ridden conflict over the last night is the result of so much built up anger and sadness,” he said.

Frey declared an “all-out effort to restore peace and security” in the city, and said he has authorised a “unified command structure” to protect infrastructure and communities, particularly during the pandemic.

“In believing in our city, we must believe that we can be better than we have been,” the mayor said. “We must confront our shortcomings with both humility, as well as hope. We must restore the peace, so that we can do this hard work together.”

Floyd, 46, died Monday after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes. A video of the arrest, in which he is heard pleading “I can’t breathe,” spread widely online.

“They executed my brother in broad daylight,” Philonise Floyd told CNN on Thursday, breaking down in tears. “I am just tired of seeing black people dying.”

Floyd’s death also spurred protests in Memphis, Tennessee, and in Los Angeles, where law enforcement officials faced off with people blocking the 101 freeway downtown.

Four officers involved in the arrest were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department, and the FBI joined the investigation into the death of Floyd, a resident of St Louis Park, Minnesota. On Wednesday, Frey, the mayor, called for the police officer who had pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck to be arrested and charged.

The Justice Department said in a statement Thursday that it had made a federal investigation into Floyd’s death a “top priority” and has assigned experienced prosecutors and investigators to the case. The department “urges calm as investigators methodically continue to gather facts,” the statement said.

A fatal shooting near the protests was under investigation.

Police said they were investigating a fatal shooting near a looted pawnshop in the area where the protests occurred.

In a news conference Thursday morning, a Minneapolis Police Department spokesman, John Elder, said two officers responded to a call near the Cadillac Pawn & Jewelry shop, where they found the victim in grave condition on the sidewalk. He was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Elder declined to confirm media reports that the victim was involved in looting, or whether the store owner was the shooter.

“That is one of the theories we’re looking into,” he said, noting that the crime is still under investigation. “We want to make sure that we do in fact have all of the facts moving forward. We don’t want to cast aspersions on somebody if in fact they weren’t doing anything wrong.”

A suspect was taken into custody, Elder said, but he declined to provide the suspect’s identity, citing investigative protocol.

The violence came at the end of what had been a tense period.

Protesters began gathering Wednesday afternoon outside the 3rd Precinct headquarters, but by early evening, officers were trying to disperse the crowds using flash-bang grenades and tear gas.

Some residents of the area said Thursday that they believed people from outside the city had been responsible for a large portion of the fires and looting.

“This is just painful,” said Cynthia Montana, 57. “I don’t think the people who did the looting and all this destruction are the same as the peaceful protesters that have been at Cup Foods,” where Floyd was arrested Monday.

“I’m a protester,” Montana said. “It was so peaceful over there.”

She said the nearby neighbourhood is diverse, but in the broader Twin Cities community, there are huge racial disparities.

“It’s like layer and layer and layer of gunpowder building over a long time,” she said, “and when you become an adult, it’s this stick of dynamite.”

Floyd’s family called for murder charges against the officers involved in his arrest.

Floyd’s death — and the recent killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man who was chased and fatally shot by two white men in Georgia — has prompted comparisons to other killings of black Americans, including Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

The episode was seen as part of a broader pattern of devastating encounters between African Americans and law enforcement denounced by civil rights leaders. It has laid bare tensions between members of the local community and the 800-plus police force in Minneapolis, a divide mirrored in other communities across the country.

The Minneapolis Police Department on Wednesday identified the fired officers as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.

Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, called for justice on NBC’s “Today” show.

“I would like for those officers to be charged with murder because that’s exactly what they did,” she said.

Other members of the Floyd family, appearing on “This Morning” on CBS, said that protests were not enough.

“I don’t want the protests to be for just show,” said Tera Brown, Floyd’s cousin, who appeared with two of Floyd’s brothers. “I want to see action.”

“This was clearly murder,” she added. “We want to see them arrested; we want to see them charged; we want to see them convicted for what they did.”

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson was friends with Floyd and called him ‘Twin.’

Stephen Jackson, a former NBA player and now podcast host, told “The Today Show” on Thursday that the death of Floyd, a long time friend, “destroyed” him.

“I jumped up, screamed, scared my daughter and almost broke my hand punching stuff because I was so mad,” Jackson said, describing his reaction when he learned the news.

Jackson has publicly detailed his relationship with Floyd on social media this week. They were close enough to refer to each other as “Twin,” Jackson said, stemming from growing up in the Houston-area together.

Jackson told “The Breakfast Club” podcast that he met Floyd, four years his senior, when Jackson was in high school. They joked that they looked so much alike that they could have the same father, hence the nickname “Twin.”

“Neighbourhoods, they all get beefing,” Jackson said. “But you always have one guy that can go to all the neighbourhoods and everybody will rock with him. Floyd was that guy.”

Jackson has shared more than a dozen social media posts having to do with Floyd’s death since Tuesday, including pictures of their childhood.

“What’s killing me the most about this whole thing is that being a professional athlete, so many people abuse your friendship and your kindness, and he was one of those guys who genuinely supported me,” Jackson told NBC. “He didn’t call unless he really needed it.”

New York’s governor compared the Floyd case to the death of Eric Garner.

In a report on Floyd’s arrest, the Minneapolis police said they had been investigating an accusation of someone trying to pass a fake $20 bill on Monday in the southern part of the city when they confronted a man who was sitting on a blue car and was later identified as Floyd.

“He was ordered to step from his car,” the police department said in a statement Monday. “After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

Video footage from nearby security cameras and bystanders did not show any attempt by Floyd to resist officers. Instead, it showed him begging for his life as he lay handcuffed on the ground, one officer grinding a knee into his neck while three others stood by.

When asked about the Floyd case at his daily coronavirus news briefing on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who previously served as the state’s attorney general, said that he believes prosecutors could bring a criminal case against the police officer who restrained Floyd.

“I don’t prejudge a case. Maybe there are facts that I don’t know. But, I’ll tell you, if I was a prosecutor, I would be looking at that case from the first moment. Because I think there is a criminal case there,” Cuomo said.

“I think the situation was so disturbing and ugly, and frightening. It was just frightening that a law enforcement officer anywhere in this country could act that way,” he said.

Cuomo brought up the case of Eric Garner, whose death at the hands of a New York City police officer in 2014 galvanised the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Sometimes you say you rationalise in your own mind, ‘Well this is terrible, but we’ll learn from it.’ How many times do we have to learn the same lesson?” he said. “We went through it in New York. We had the Garner case in New York. How many times do you have to learn the same lesson?”

Police officers nationwide condemned the tactics used in the arrest of Floyd.

Floyd’s death and the ensuing outrage prompted law enforcement officers across the country to speak out on social media, with many condemning the Minneapolis police officers involved and denouncing their actions as unjustifiable.

Much of the outrage has focused on the officer seen pinning his knee on Floyd’s neck. In a video posted on Facebook, Detective Dmaine Freeland of the New York Police Department said he felt compelled to speak out “because I realised by saying nothing that I am indeed saying something.”

Freeland, wearing his police uniform, called the officer who pinned Floyd “my enemy” for betraying his oath as a police officer, and sought to distance “me and every good cop” from “that heinous act” which occurred in Minneapolis.

“In the beginning, in taking this career, we take an oath to serve and protect,” Freeland said. “I would like to say that that officer failed on both aspects. And because he has failed, he is not my friend, he is not my brother, but he is my enemy.”

Police chiefs in Texas also shared their reactions online, and urged law enforcement officers across the nation to oppose abuses that have disproportionately affected communities of color.

“The death of #GeorgeFloyd occurred in Minneapolis, but these tragic encounters between officers and residents have occurred in too many cities across the country, including Fort Worth,” Chief Ed Kraus of the Fort Worth Police Department wrote on Twitter. “We must serve more compassionately, and intervene when we see our own acting inappropriately.”

Chief Renee Hall of the Dallas Police Department said on Twitter that “there was no empathy in what we saw” in the footage from Minneapolis, adding that their actions do not represent the nation’s 800,000 police officers.

In Louisiana, the Shreveport police chief placed one of his officers on leave amid an investigation into a since-deleted Facebook post in which the officer, Sgt. Brent Mason, called Floyd’s death “a mistake or misstep not an act of murder.”

Other officials have also defended the officers’ actions. Hal Marx, the mayor of Petal, Mississippi, said he “didn’t see anything unreasonable” in the video and said the officers involved were being “crucified.”

The Minneapolis Police Department has received many excessive force complaints, especially from black residents.

Excessive force complaints against Minneapolis officers have become commonplace, especially by African American residents. One of the officers involved in Floyd’s death, Chauvin, 44, had several complaints filed against him, three of which led to reprimands for his language and tone.

Chauvin shot a man who was trying to grab an officer’s gun in 2008, according to The Pioneer Press. He was also present at two other shootings, one of them fatal, but it was unclear if he fired his weapon in those cases, according to Communities United Against Police Brutality, a local organisation advocating police reform.

African Americans account for about 20% of the city’s population, but they are more likely to be pulled over, arrested and have force used against them than white residents, police department data shows. And black people accounted for more than 60% of the victims in Minneapolis police shootings from late 2009 through May 2019, data shows.

The tension between the community and the 800-plus-officer force has unfolded in a predominantly white and progressive metropolis, where the white mayor openly discusses systemic racism, the police chief is a black man who embraces a community-oriented approach and residents elected two black transgender people to a City Council that has taken aggressive action to curb racial segregation.

Yet there is a deep rift between the city’s police force — which also is predominantly white — and the community, one that seems to grow larger with each killing.

© 2020 New York Times News Service