MINNEAPOLIS (Minnesota) • Another night of outrage left stores looted and cars smouldering in many cities across the United States yesterday as curfews failed to quell the violence that replaced peaceful daytime demonstrations over the death of a black man seen on video gasping for breath as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.
Violence spread overnight despite curfews in several major cities rocked by civil unrest in recent days, including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Denver, Cincinnati, Portland in Oregon and Louisville in Kentucky. Protests also flared in Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Cleveland.
Hundreds of people also protested in London and Berlin yesterday in solidarity with demonstrations in the US.
In Salt Lake City, Utah, a man aimed a bow and arrow at protesters and was attacked by the crowd.
Fires burned in the streets of Los Angeles.
Protesters ripped apart an American flag in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in many cities.
The sight of protesters flooding streets fuelled a sense of crisis in the US after weeks of lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen millions thrown out of work and has disproportionately affected minority communities.
The closely packed crowds and many demonstrators not wearing masks sparked fears of a resurgence of Covid-19, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans.
In the nation’s capital, hundreds of demonstrators assembled near the Justice Department headquarters shouting, “Black lives matter.”
Many later moved to the White House, where they faced off against shield-carrying police, some on horseback.
The full Minnesota National Guard was activated for the first time since World War II after five nights of arson, looting and vandalism in parts of Minneapolis, the state’s largest city, and its adjacent capital, St. Paul.
LEGITIMATE RAGE AND ANGER
We are seeing in St. Paul and obviously around the country this level of rage and anger that frankly is legitimate, as we see this horrific video of George Floyd being just suffocated to death. Unfortunately, it’s being expressed right now, over the past week, in ways that are destructive and unacceptable.
MINNESOTA MAYOR MELVIN CARTER, on the civil unrest rocking several major cities in recent days.
AN AMERICAN RESPONSE
Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not.
FORMER VICE-PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN, urging against violence and chaos.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said the deployment was necessary because outside agitators were using the protests over Mr George Floyd’s death to sow chaos.
About 170 stores have been looted and some burned to the ground in St. Paul, its mayor said.
“We are seeing in St. Paul and obviously around the country this level of rage and anger that frankly is legitimate, as we see this horrific video of George Floyd being just suffocated to death,” Mayor Melvin Carter told CNN.
“Unfortunately, it’s being expressed right now, over the past week, in ways that are destructive and unacceptable.”
While covering the protests in Minneapolis last Saturday night, two members of a Reuters TV crew were injured after being hit by rubber bullets.
The Trump administration, which has called protesters “thugs”, will not federalise and take control of the National Guard for now, national security adviser Robert O’Brien said
Former vice-president Joe Biden has urged protesters not to allow those demonstrations to devolve into violence and chaos, saying rioting and looting will “drive people away from the just cause that protest is meant to advance”.
“The act of protesting should never be allowed to overshadow the reason we protest,” the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential candidate said in a statement released early yesterday.
“Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not.
“Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not,” he added.
In an extraordinary move, the Pentagon said it put military units on a four-hour alert to be ready, if requested by the Minnesota governor to help keep the peace.
National Guard units were also mobilised in Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin and Tennessee.
At dusk, as the curfew in Minneapolis went into effect, the police confronted some 500 protesters milling around a burnt-out bank and opened fire with tear gas and plastic bullets, sending the crowd scurrying.
Ms Tina Harrison, 32, was gasping and coughing as she and two companions poured milk over their faces after being pepper-sprayed.
“We came here as white women… to protect people of colour,” Ms Harrison said, while they took cover inside an apartment lobby.
It marked the fifth night of such clashes, the second since Friday’s announcement that Derek Chauvin, the policeman seen kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck, had been arrested on murder charges in Mr Floyd’s death.
Mr Floyd, who had done security work for Minneapolis nightclubs, had been suspected of trying to pass counterfeit money to buy cigarettes last Monday evening.
The police said he was unarmed.
A store employee who had called for help had told a police dispatcher that the suspect appeared to be intoxicated.
Three other officers dismissed last Tuesday from the police department with Chauvin, who was known to have done off-duty security work at one of the same nightclubs as Mr Floyd, are also under criminal investigation, prosecutors said.