MINNEAPOLIS—Hours after a former Minneapolis cop was charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, protests exploded in major cities across the country on Friday night, with at least two people shot dead, police vehicles set ablaze, windows smashed in, and protesters attempting to storm buildings.
Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Dallas, Richmond, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Brooklyn, Washington, Omaha, Denver, Des Moines... In city after city, chanting crowds unleashed anger—and police responded with teargas and pepper spray.
Harrowing scenes unfolded on TV and social media: projectiles being lobbed at SWAT officers protecting the CNN Center in Atlanta; an NYPD van engulfed in flames; a Los Angeles officer attacked by a crowd; cars accelerating into protesters in Bakersfield and San Jose; a Louisville reporter crying out that she was being hit by rubber police bullets.
A 19-year-old man was shot dead by an unknown gunman at a protest in Detroit and a Federal Protective Service officer was shot dead while trying to protect the Down Town Federal Building in Oakland, California.
The White House was briefly locked down as nearby protests grew hot. The Pentagon reportedly put military police units on alert that they could be deployed to quell unrest.
The night before, Minneapolis had burned, with protesters taking over the stationhouse where Officer Derek Chauvin was assigned before he kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes.
Chauvin was charged Friday with third-degree murder, but the city still boiled with fury. A curfew was in place in Minneapolis and its sister city St. Paul on Friday night, but protesters ignored it and massed—some angry that the officers who stood by while Floyd pleaded “I can’t breathe” had not yet been charged.
“I don’t plan on entertaining any curfew,” 33-year-old Joseph Bennett of St. Paul told The Daily Beast. “Ideally, things shouldn’t go down like this. But justice hasn’t been fully served yet.
“The looting, fire, that’s what gets things heard,” he added. “Whatever it takes.”
Outside the 5th police precinct, an atmosphere of lawlessness took hold. A diverse crowd looted at least three stores and a post office. Inside a wide-open Dollar Tree within eyesight of the police station, three young white men lit paper products on fire to cheers of “Burn the bitch down!” For hours, not a single police officer was seen around the station as helicopters hovered above and fireworks flew through the air.
Police moved in around midnight with a sudden show of force and used teargas to disperse people from the parking lot of a Wells Fargo that was on fire.
Gov. Tim Walz condemned what he called “wanton destruction,” saying what began as peaceful social justice protests had morphed into something “incredibly dangerous.”
“The absolute chaos—this is not grieving, this is not making a statement,” he said as officials announced more National Guard members would be deployed.
The skirmishes in other cities were just as dramatic.
In New York City, after hundreds of people swarmed to meet police officers outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, demonstrators hurled water bottles at cops. Cops unleashed pepper spray and batons on the chanting crowd. The demonstrators dispersed, but only temporarily. An NYPD van, abandoned by police to the crowd, was set on fire near Fort Greene Park. Law enforcement sources said there was a thwarted attempt to take over the 88th Precinct stationhouse.
In one clash captured on video, an NYPD officer called one protester a “stupid fucking bitch” before throwing her onto the ground.
“This was me, and I want to make one thing clear to all the people that are commenting lies below this video,” someone who claimed to be the woman wrote on Twitter. “I did NOT spit in this officer's face. I was wearing a face mask. He told me to get out of the street and then immediately threw me out of the way.”
In Atlanta, a peaceful demonstration turned chaotic and violent outside the CNN Center. Police used pepper spray but the crowd stood its ground. The building’s sign was defaced with spray paint, windows were smashed in, and objects were hurled into the lobby—where police stood in a phalanx and a correspondent standing in the stairwell gave live reports.
“I have a daughter and wife I want to get home to tonight,” correspondent Nick Valencia told anchor Chris Cuomo as the confrontation appeared to be on the verge of spinning completely out of control.
On the other side of the country, in Bakersfield, California, demonstrators marching through the streets were suddenly subjected to horror as a car sped up and drove into the crowd, striking at least one person as onlookers cried out. A similarly gut-wrenching video posted to Twitter, apparently from San Jose, showed a driver deliberately plow into protesters, clearly running over a man whose legs were under the back tire.
In Los Angeles, a police officer was attacked by a small group of demonstrators, put in a chokehold and kicked until he was able to run away.
It was nearly impossible to keep up with the reports of skirmishes popping up across the map as the night wore on.
Boston police holding wooden bats stood guard outside the Roxbury subway station as hundreds of protesters took to the streets and took down an American flag.
Houston protesters blocked an entrance ramp to Interstate 45, marched on U.S. 59, and reportedly chased away a woman spotted carrying a rifle near City Hall. A police car was vandalized and shoving matches broke out.
Video from Fort Wayne, Indiana, showed people milling about holding signs—then suddenly sparks emerging from tear gas canisters, followed by clouds of vapor. Police officers stood in a long line; all of a sudden, one of them sprayed a young man standing feet away.
In Louisville, Kentucky, where seven people were shot amid protests late Thursday, basement windows to the Hall of Justice were smashed and a fire was set inside on Friday.
Kaitlin Rust, a local correspondent for Louisville’s WAVE 3, was apparently hit by rubber bullets as she reported live from the protests, shouting into her microphone that the police were aiming “directly at us!”
Back in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the National Guard was out in force as an 8 p.m. curfew took effect. It did not stop people from taking to the streets.
Officers fired rubber bullets and deployed tear gas, but the demonstrators had them surrounded on two sides and refused to budge. After police left the scene, they celebrated what they saw as a victory over the cops.
“I think they were trying to trick us or bait us with the National Guard leaving. We came in closer but didn’t move after the tear gas,” Stanley Jackson told The Daily Beast.
“We could tell when the National Guard put on gas masks it was time to get ready. So when they hit us with the gas, we just took it,” Armando Maurelli said.
After breaking through the police line at Hiawatha Ave., a crowd marched to the 5th Precinct with no sign of police along the way. They broke windows and entered a post office and banks, including a BMO Harris and a Wells Fargo across the street from the precinct. Cars in a parking lot were set on fire as police on rooftops looked on.
There was word of state police and national guard surrounding the area buzzing among protesters around midnight local time Saturday, but no initial movement made by either toward the 5th Precinct or those starting fires.
A nearby White Castle and a forklift were also set on fire. Police did not advance to stop them.
—Justin Glawe, Danny Gold, and Pilar Melendez contributed reporting