A largely peaceful demonstration erupted first in vandalism, then in violence. Cops used pepper spray, and then some in the crowd were seen smashing windows and defacing the giant CNN sign with spray-paint. Down the street, a police car was set ablaze.
CNN correspondent Nick Valencia began reporting on the frightening scene from a stairway inside the building, behind a phalanx of SWAT officers in the lobby, with an angry mob standing on the other side of the broken and missing plate glass.
“I have a daughter and wife I want to get home to tonight,” Valencia told anchor Chris Cuomo.
Protesters lobbed objects at the windows and into the lobby, and at least one officer was struck. What appeared to be a flash-bang device landed in front of police and large gusts of smoke went up into the air.
One protester breached the building and was immediately arrested by cops as Valencia shouted questions at him, asking why he was there. “Change,” he replied.
As the violence flared and the situation in the lobby became more precarious, cops began firing tear gas and the crowd quickly began to thin out. Live footage showed over a dozen police officers holding the line with shields, barricades, and armored vehicles pushing protesters away from the building as objects continued to be hurled.
The tense scene unfolded just hours after CNN found itself at the center of the story about protests in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, pleading “I can’t breathe” while a police officer kneeled on his neck.
Reporter Omar Jimenez and members of his crew were arrested by state police while covering fiery demonstrations in the city—prompting the governor of Minnesota to issue a public apology.
“There is absolutely no reason something like this should happen. Calls were made immediately. This is a very public apology to that team. It should not happen,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a Friday news conference, adding that he took “full responsibility” for the early-morning incident. “I failed you last night in that.”
President Trump, on the other hand, appeared to gloat, retweeting a message that read, “In an ironic twist of fate, CNN HQ is being attacked by the very riots they promoted as noble & just.”
In a Friday evening press conference, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was visibly angry as she told protesters to “go home” after thousands marched from the Georgia capitol to the Centennial Olympic Park before gathering outside CNN.
“What I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not Atlanta. This is not a protest, This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is chaos. A protest has a purpose,” Bottoms said, stating that the protests are “disgracing the life of George Floyd.”
“When Dr. King was assassinated, we didn't do this to our city. If you want to change in America, go and register to vote...that is the change we need in this country.”
Rapper T.I. also spoke at the mayor’s press conference, stating that Atlanta “has already been here for us” and does not deserve to be burnt down.
“This is a moment where people are fed up. I have to make an appeal to my brothers and sisters because I realize the only way to get constructive change is through nonviolent means,” Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., added.
Their pleading did not not sway everyone. As midnight neared, looters descended on upscale malls in Buckhead, and firefighters were blocked from reaching a blaze at Del Frisco’s Grille.
“There have been multiple instances of shots being fired in close proximity to our officers and shots were fired at an officer in a patrol vehicle on Peachtree Road at Lenox Road. We continue our efforts at restoring peace in our city,” Sgt. John Chafee said in a statement.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency and activated 500 National Guard members in an attempt to restore order.