Minneapolis protests turn violent, police precinct taken over
President Donald Trump has issued an extraordinary warning to rioters who have taken over the US city of Minneapolis, after three days of protests over the death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer.
Dozens of businesses have been looted, multiple blazes are burning, cars have been torched and the streets remain filled with hundreds, if not thousands of people.
And if local authorities can’t restore order, Mr Trump vowed to send in the country’s military to deal with the “thugs”, adding: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The highly inflammatory comments came as a huge mob stormed the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct just after 10pm local time (1pm AEST and set it alight.
A ferocious blaze has engulfed most of the building and it is now at risk of exploding, with fears that a gas line running to it has been severed.
“If you are near the building, for your safety, PLEASE RETREAT in the event the building explodes,” a message from the city’s official Twitter account said.
The sound of gun shots and exploding fireworks can still be heard in the surrounding area, with huge plumes of smoke filling the air and multiple blazes visible.
It was another day of increasingly violent demonstrations sparked by the death of an African-American man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer.
The four officers involved in the death of Mr Floyd, whose brutal arrest was filmed and shared online, sparking outrage, worked at the 3rd Precinct.
On Thursday night local time, video uploaded to social media showed rioters taking control of the building, destroying equipment inside and then lighting fires.
A police spokesman told Associated Press that precinct staff had been evacuated as rioters descended “in the interest of the safety of our personnel”.
As tensions reached fever pitch, Mr Trump took to Twitter to respond, also taking a swipe at “the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey”.
“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right,” he posted.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
The social media platform has since slapped that second post with a rule violation for “glorifying violence”.
Minnesota’s Governor Tm Walz has already called in the National Guard, following widespread looting, the destruction of vehicles and private property, multiple blazes and instances of violence.
Speaking to reporters just before 2am local time, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey condemned the looting and destruction.
“What we have seen over the past several hours and the past couple of nights in terms of looting is unacceptable,” he said.
“Our communities cannot and will not tolerate it. These are community institutions that we need. These are banks that people rely on to get cash. Grocery stores that people rely on to get food. These are pharmacies people rely on to get medicine.”
Earlier, incredible footage was broadcast live on the Today Show. It showed a black man laying on a hill after being stabbed by a white man.
Police had been avoiding the area in downtown Minneapolis, leaving the victim bleeding on the ground for 15 minutes before help arrived.
The vision showed a shirtless man being arrested, but even as police attempted to intervene they were pelted with rocks and bricks.
Minneapolis has been brought to a standstill by the days of demonstrations, with the light-rail system and bus network shut down until at least Sunday due to safety concerns.
Dozens of businesses have boarded up their windows and reinforced doors in a bid to stop looters. Target has closed more than 20 outlets after several were targeted and ransacked.
Mr Floyd’s death has caused outrage right across the US and protests have sprung up in other cities, with hundreds of demonstrators calling for action against the four officers.
The demonstrations first began after footage emerged on Tuesday showing Mr Floyd being pinned to the ground by a white police officer who was kneeling on his neck for almost 10 minutes.
Mr Floyd, 46, had begged to be let go during the incident, telling the officer, “I can’t breathe”, before he lost consciousness. Terrified bystanders watched on, telling the officer he was bleeding from the nose and struggling.
He was then put on a stretcher and taken to the Hennepin County Medical Centre where was pronounced dead.
Earlier today, Courteney Ross, Mr Floyd’s girlfriend, told the Star Tribune that she was “heartbroken” by the violence.
“Waking up this morning to see Minneapolis on fire would be something that would devastate Floyd,” Ms Ross said. “He loved the city. He came here [from Houston] and stayed here for the people and the opportunities.
“Floyd was a gentle giant. He was about love and about peace.”
A reporter from the Nine network, Tim Arvier, was in the thick of riots as the stabbing unfolded today, caught between police and protesters who threw large objects and had to be physically pushed back.
Earlier, he described the scene outside a Target that had been looted as “absolute lawlessness”.
Arvier said looters had been walking into the department store and filling up shopping trolleys with products amid the chaos.
He said many of the people had recently lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and were using the opportunity to get food.
Outside the store, cars were on fire and police were nowhere to be seen.
Rioting had also reportedly broken out in the Minnesota city of St Paul on Thursday afternoon, where police fired tear gas on demonstrators.
Police used batons and barricaded a department store in the city and were using squad cars to block entrances.
In video shared on social media, officers sprayed pepper spray from the window of a squad car at large crowds.
After days of continued unrest in the city, Governor Walz today signed an executive order activating the National Guard to move in.
The National Guard will be providing “personnel, equipment and facilities needed to respond to and recover (from” the civil upheaval caused by the protests.
At a morning news briefing, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he was “absolutely sorry for the pain, devastation and the trauma that Mr Floyd’s death has left on his family, his loved ones and our community”.
Leaders in the city have been urging the public for calm in recent days.
A lawyer for Mr Floyd’s family, Ben Crump, urged protesters not to engage in violence.
“We don’t need that. We need people focused on getting justice,” he said on Thursday.
He’s also calling for an independent investigation and says he doesn’t trust the city of Minneapolis.
PROTESTS SPREAD ACROSS AMERICA
As Minneapolis imploded, protests popped up in at least a dozen major cities across the United States.
In Los Angeles protesters gathered and burned an American flag, in a video that has now gone viral on Twitter.
The flag-burning demonstration was part of a larger Black Lives Matter protest that took place in the Downtown area of Los Angeles, where protesters blocked off the 101 Freeway and climbed onto California Highway Patrol cars.
One Highway Patrol car had its windows smashed, according to a report from the Hill as protesters climbed onto the roof of the vehicle.
Hundreds of protesters were involved in the Los Angeles demonstrations according to the report.
At a Black Lives Matter protest in Memphis, Tennessee on Thursday night, protesters marched to the city’s Midtown Police Station chanting, “I can’t breathe”.
A large police presence responded to a growing gathering in Phoenix in Arizona, forming a line and attempting to disperse the crowd.
And the unrest has also spread to the Colorado city of Denver, where police used tear gas and pepper bullets on angry crowds.
It started as a small and peaceful protest but erupted into chaos when somebody fired a gun near the Capitol building.
Tensions in Denver have built throughout the night as protesters and police clashed. The crowd grew larger and police escalated their response.