Countercurrents Collective | May 29, 2020
On the 3rd day – Thursday – of protest on the murder of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, demonstrators broke into a Minneapolis police precinct station after the department abandoned it, setting it ablaze and igniting fireworks as three days of violent protests spread to cities across the U.S.
Gov. Tim Walz late Wednesday called it an “extremely dangerous situation” and urged residents to leave the area.
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.
Livestream video showed the protesters entering the building, where fire alarms blared and sprinklers ran as blazes were set.
Protesters were seen setting fire to a Minneapolis Police Department jacket and cheering.
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.
Demonstrators blocked traffic in downtown Denver.
A day earlier, demonstrators had taken to the streets in Los Angeles and Memphis.
Thousands of demonstrators march
Elsewhere in Minneapolis, thousands of peaceful demonstrators marched through the streets calling for justice.
Thousands of people 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.
Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said the rally had been peaceful, and there had been no arrests by late evening.
Protests first erupted Tuesday, a day after Floyd’s death in a confrontation with police captured on widely seen citizen video.
On the video, Floyd was seen pleading that he cannot breathe as Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneels on his neck. As minutes pass, Floyd slowly stops talking and moving. The 3rd Precinct covers the portion of south Minneapolis where Floyd died.
National Guard deployed
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz earlier Thursday activated the National Guard at the Minneapolis mayor’s request, but it was not immediately clear when and where the Guard was being deployed, and none could be seen during protests in Minneapolis or St. Paul.
After calling in the Guard, Walz urged widespread changes in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“It is time to rebuild. Rebuild the city, rebuild our justice system and rebuild the relationship between law enforcement and those they’re charged to protect,” Walz said.
The Guard tweeted minutes after the precinct burned that it had activated more than 500 soldiers across the metro area.
Earlier Thursday, dozens of businesses across the Twin Cities boarded up their windows and doors in an effort to prevent looting, with Minneapolis-based Target announcing it was temporarily closing two dozen area stores.
Housing complex construction site engulfed in flames
Early Thursday, a reporter from The Minneapolis Star Tribune tweeted images of a housing complex construction site that appeared fully engulfed in flames and video of a liquor store that was trashed with shattered glass and boxes littering the sidewalk.
Elder, the police spokesman, confirmed “a large fire from an apartment building that is under construction” but he did not have a count of how many fires were burning early Thursday.
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.
Windows in every business smashed
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 station, 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.
Among the casualties of the overnight fires: a six-story building under construction that was to provide nearly 200 apartments of affordable housing.
“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 were 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.
A man fatally shot
Amid the violence in Minneapolis, a man was found fatally shot Wednesday night near a pawnshop, possibly by the owner, authorities said.
One person was in custody in the shooting death near the site of the protests, police said.
Officers responded to a report of a stabbing at 9:05 p.m. and found a man who was not breathing lying on the sidewalk, police said in a statement Thursday morning.
The unidentified victim was rushed to Hennepin County Medical Center. At the hospital, it was discovered the victim had been shot.
Minneapolis police were assisted by officers from nearby St. Paul, state police and metro transit police.
Beyond the shooting, there were no known injuries to protesters or police, and no additional arrests, Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said at a news conference early Thursday.
“Tonight was a different night of protesting than it was just the night before,” Elder said.
A reporter for NBC affiliate KARE11 of Minneapolis who was livestreaming the protest reported that an AutoZone and Target had been looted. A Cub Foods and a Dollar Tree also showed signs of damage and looting.
Video showed the AutoZone with broken windows and spray paint. One bystander was warning people against damaging the business, saying it had nothing to do with Floyd’s death.
A fire broke out at the AutoZone, a fire department official confirmed Wednesday night.
“Initially … it was just being looted, but at some point, a fire started,” Ricardo Lopez, a journalist for the Minnesota Reformer news organization, told KARE11, adding he was not sure how it began.
Protesters set other fires in the street.
Light-rail system and bus service shut down
Minneapolis shut down nearly its entire light-rail system and all bus service through Sunday out of safety concerns.
In St. Paul, clouds of smoke hung in the air as police armed with batons and wearing gas masks and body armor kept a watchful eye on protesters along one of the city’s main commercial corridors, where firefighters also sprayed water onto a series of small fires. At one point, officers stood in line in front of a Target, trying to keep out looters, who were also smashing windows of other businesses.
Hundreds of demonstrators returned Thursday to the 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 3rd Precinct 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.
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.
“We don’t want to be fighting anyone”
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.”
The system is broken
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.
Appeal for calm
Mayor Jacob Frey appealed for calm but the city’s response to the protests was quickly questioned as things started spiraling into violence.
“I cannot risk the safety of innocent people and so that is what I’ve been sworn to uphold and that is what I am dedicated to do,” Frey told NBC affiliate KARE. “We can have both things. We can have peaceful demonstrations, but I also have to ensure the safety of everyone in the city.”
“I’m imploring our city, imploring our community, imploring every one of us to keep the peace. Let’s honor George Floyd’s memory,” Frey told KARE11 in a phone interview.
The strategy failed
“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.
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.
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.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in Minneapolis said Thursday they were conducting “a robust criminal investigation” into the death. President Donald Trump has said he had asked an investigation to be expedited.
The FBI is also investigating whether Floyd’s civil rights were violated.
Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, was fired Tuesday with three other officers involved in the arrest. The next day, the mayor called for Chauvin to be criminally charged. He also appealed for the activation of the National Guard.
Order to use tear gas
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told the local FOX 9 TV station that he ordered the use of tear gas after violence and looting. He said that he is committed to protecting the rights of people to demonstrate and most did so peacefully, but there have been groups committing criminal acts.
Arradondo made a call for peace and patience to let investigations play out Wednesday night.
“Justice historically has never come to fruition through some of the acts that we’re seeing tonight, whether it’s the looting, whether it’s the damage of property and other things,” Arradondo said in the FOX interview.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, NBC Los Angeles reported. At times, the demonstrators blocked traffic on the 101 freeway.
Some surrounded two California Highway Patrol vehicles and damaged them.
CHP said when it attempted to disperse a crowd on the freeway, “they were immediately surrounded” and someone broke the rear window of a patrol car with a skateboard.
A CHP officer tried to leave, and a protester jumped on the car’s hood before jumping off into the roadway, officials said. That person is said to have suffered moderate injuries.
A second CHP patrol vehicle stopped to help that man but that vehicle was also surrounded and had its rear window shattered and that officer also left, the CHP said.
Minneapolis mayor says anger over George Floyd death ‘not only understandable, it’s right’
Minneapolis Mayor chocked back tears on Thursday and told protesters who were decrying the police-involved with the death of Floyd that their anger was “not only understandable, it’s right.”
The mayor’s eyes appeared red from tears as, just a few miles away, firefighters were still dousing flames from protests that turned violent overnight, demonstrations that erupted after Floyd’s death in police custody on Monday.
“What we’ve seen over the last two days … is the result of so much built-up anger and sadness,” he told reporters. “Anger and sadness that has been ingrained in our black community, not just because of five minutes of horror, but 400 years.”
He added: “If you’re feeling that sadness and that anger, it’s not only understandable, it’s right.”
Racism is a “public health issue”
City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, a former performance artist, sang “Amazing Grace” before speaking to reporters.
“You have every absolute right to be angry, to be upset, to express your anger,” Jenkins said. “However, you have no right to perpetrate violence and harm on the very communities that you say you are standing up for. We need peace and calm in our streets and I am begging you for that calm.”
She declared that racism is a “public health issue” no less serious than cancer.
“Until we name this virus, this disease that has infected American for the past 400 years, we will never ever resolve this issue,” she said. “If you don’t call cancer what it is, you can never cure that disease.”
Before leaving the podium, she turned to her right, where police chief Medaria Arradondo was approaching, and declared: “We gotta make a change, bro.”
A deficit of hope
Chief Arradondo said he understood the anger of protesters, but said he’s duty-bound to restore order against looters and arsonists.
“I know that there is currently a deficit of hope in our city. And as I wear this uniform before you, I know this department has contributed to that deficit of hope,” he said.
“But I will not allow (anyone) to continue to increase that deficit by re-traumatizing those folks in our community.”
University of Minnesota cuts ties with Minneapolis police
Outraged at the death of George Floyd, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel on Wednesday said the school would sever some security arrangements with the city police department.
The university will no longer contract with the Minneapolis Police Department for added enforcement at large events such as football games and concerts, Gabel said, per CBS Minnesota. And it will cease using city police for K-9 bomb detection and other specialized services.
“Our hearts are broken after watching the appalling video capturing the actions of Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers against George Floyd leading to his tragic death,” Gabel said in a letter to students, staff and faculty. “As a community, we are outraged and grief-stricken. I do not have the words to fully express my pain and anger and I know that many in our community share those feelings, but also fear for their own safety. This will not stand.”
The move was not a total disengagement with the police department, however.
“We have a responsibility to uphold our values and a duty to honor them,” Gabel wrote. “We will limit our collaboration with the MPD to joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of our community or that allow us to investigate and apprehend those who put our students, faculty, and staff at risk.”
Letter (Photo: University of Minnesota)
Outcry among NFL stars, with many channeling Colin Kaepernick’s message
Over the past several years, Brown has not held his tongue on certain topics: he has at turns kneeled, raised his fist and remained off the field during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, and in 2017, a week after speaking out about comments from Houston Texans owner Bob McNair that the NFL can’t let “inmates run the prison,” he was traded to Seattle.
During a chat with media on Wednesday, the Seattle Seahawks tackle was asked about the usual: the health of his knee, how the Seahawks will create offensive line chemistry when they are unlikely to have a lot of preseason time to do so.
Then he was asked about the killing of Floyd, and the weariness washed over Brown. Another case of police brutality and a black man dead on the street, as both Floyd and onlookers begged for his life.
“After what’s happened the last couple of days in Minneapolis … are we getting anywhere as a society? Do you see any progress there?” Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune asked.
Brown shook his head, his lips arching into a frown.
“No, not really,” he said. “If you know the details of what happened, it’s a tragic situation. Rest in peace to Floyd, prayers to his family and loved ones. A situation that could have been prevented. Someone called the cops on him for potentially writing a bad check and he ended up dying on camera, unarmed [and] in handcuffs.
“I mean, it seems like things like this continue to happen every year at some point …” he shook his head again and sighed. “I don’t know what it will change. But it’s sad. It’s sad. It’s been happening for a long time and we’ll see what transpires from it.”
All over the social media since Floyd’s death, black people of all stripes — athletes, actors, activists, and thousands more without blue check marks, American and not — have reacted in the same way Brown did Wednesday. They are tired from seeing videos like the one of Floyd’s death show up in timelines.
Of wondering if this time there will be justice.
Of knowing that Floyd is the latest, but likely not the last.
Not long before Brown’s comments, two of his NFL brethren also commented on Floyd’s killing. Those players are white; it’s been said repeatedly that such voices are necessary in this cause, and that black athletes need the support of white teammates and colleagues in the fight for social justice.
In a call with Texans media members, J. J. Watt said he saw the video of Floyd’s death.
“I think it’s disgusting,” Watt said. “I think that there’s no explanation for it. For me it doesn’t make any sense. I just don’t see how a man in handcuffs, on the ground, who is clearly detained and clearly saying [he’s] in distress … I just don’t understand how that situation can’t be remedied in a way that doesn’t end in his death.
“I think that it needs to be addressed strongly obviously … I don’t know how you can defend it. It’s terrible. It’s extremely difficult to watch and it’s upsetting.”
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill tweeted on Wednesday morning, “Everyone deserves to feel safe & protected in their communities … it’s on us to use our voices and actions to make that happen.
“What happened is completely unacceptable.”
Kaepernick spoke out Thursday on Floyd’s death, writing on Instagram:
“When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction.
The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears because your violence has brought this resistance.
We have the right to fight back!
Rest in Power George Floyd”
The NFL now touts its “Inspire Change” initiative as if it appeared out of thin air, its own idea to be the best corporate citizen it can be, and happily sends out news releases about the grants it is awarding in partnership with the Players Coalition.
As a reporter spoke up to ask a question almost unheard of in a group interview situation just a few years ago, as Brown’s expression changed upon hearing the question about Floyd’s death, as he struggled for words to explain the unexplainable, it was hard not to be reminded again of how the NFL and players have changed over the past few years and who pushed them to this point.