The governor of Minnesota has sent in the National Guard in the biggest domestic deployment in the state military reserve’s history, as he warned of more violent protests and riots following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota National Guard said the state would deploy nearly 2,500 guards on the streets of Minneapolis on Saturday night to quell civil unrest, more than three times the number on duty the night before. The number could swell as high as 10,000 in coming days.
Gov Tim Walz also ordered the shutdown of four major highways in the metro area.
Protests and rioting swept across dozens of US cities on Saturday. In Washington, men and women chanted, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”, a rallying cry from the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement, as they pushed past a White House security barricade. Protesters in Philadelphia and Seattle set fire to police cars, prompting mayors in those cities as well as Los Angeles to impose curfews. In Chicago, crowds gathered outside Trump Tower and shut down Lake Shore Drive, a major thoroughfare. The city later imposed a curfew of 9 pm to 6am until further notice.
Mr Walz, a Democrat, said that in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul peaceful protests in response to the “tragedy” of Floyd’s death had given way to violent demonstrations and looting that were a “mockery of pretending this is about George Floyd’s death or inequities or historical traumas to our communities of colour”.
“The situation in Minneapolis is no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd. It is about attacking civil society, instilling fear and disrupting our great cities,” Mr Walz said, warning the situation was likely to get worse on Saturday night, despite the imposition of curfews.
Go outside on Saturday night, he said, and “the assumption is that you’re out there to join in the destruction”.
Rep Ilhan Omar, whose Congressional district includes Minneapolis, also urged restraint.
“We can be angry,” she said. “We can take it to the streets, we can blow up the phones of people that represent you, but what we cannot do is start a fire that can take lives.”
The Pentagon has also taken the rare step of putting active-duty members of the US Army on standby for possible deployment to Minnesota.
A US defence department spokesperson said on Saturday that Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, and Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had directed “several units” to be ready to support the Minnesota authorities at four hours’ notice.
Donald Trump told reporters on Saturday morning as he left Washington for Florida: “We have our military ready, willing and able if they ever want to call our military.”
“We can have troops on the ground very quickly. They have to be tough, strong and respected,” the president added. “Because these people, this Antifa, there’s a lot of radical left bad people, and they’ve got to be taught that you can’t do this,” he said, referring to claims that anti-fascist protesters had joined the demonstrations.
William Barr, the US attorney-general, echoed the president on Saturday afternoon, saying: “Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda. In many places, it appears the violence is planned, organised and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups, far-left extremist groups, using Antifa-like tactics, many of whom travelled from outside the state to promote the violence.”
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Trump, who has attracted criticism for his handling of the Floyd case, lashed out at demonstrators on Twitter, including some outside the White House.
“They were just their [sic] to cause trouble. The Secret Service handled them easily,” the US president said, describing the federal law enforcement agents as “totally professional, but very cool”.
“I was inside, watched every move, and couldn’t have felt more safe,” Mr Trump said on Saturday. “They let the ‘protesters’ scream and rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard, didn’t know what hit them.”
On Friday morning, Mr Trump provoked anger when he suggested the military could fire on protesters, tweeting: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The post was hidden by Twitter, which said it violated the platform’s rules on glorifying violence.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on Monday after Minneapolis police received a 911 call about the attempted use of a forged banknote. He was arrested by four police officers and held handcuffed, face down on the street with a knee on his neck, until he became unresponsive and was moved on to a stretcher.
The officers were fired by the Minneapolis police department this week, and one, Derek Chauvin, was taken into custody on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter by state prosecutors.
Mr Chauvin’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The protests fit into the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, but also into the uprisings in US cities in the late 1960s, said Elizabeth Todd-Breland, a history professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
In the 1960s police violence often was the spark that ignited black people’s frustration over decades of urban disinvestment. Now police brutality has come when a disproportionate number of black Americans are dying from Covid-19.
“These things coming together in some ways make this moment make a lot of sense in terms of people coming into the streets for protests,” she said.
Floyd’s death, which reminded many Americans of similar high-profile cases involving black men and women dying at the hands of white police officers, has prompted rare public interventions from corporate America.
Mark Mason, Citigroup chief financial officer, said on Friday: “Even though I’m the CFO of a global bank, the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky are reminders of the dangers black Americans like me face in living our daily lives.
“Racism continues to be at the root of so much pain and ugliness in our society — from the streets of Minneapolis to the disparities inflicted by Covid-19,” Mr Mason added. “As long as that’s true, America’s twin ideals of freedom and equality will remain out of reach.
More than two dozen business leaders in Minnesota, including Best Buy chief executive Corie Barry and Land O’Lakes chief executive Beth Ford, cosigned a letter saying: “It is hard to watch the video of the event as it is clearly evident Mr Floyd was not treated with the dignity and respect he was due as a human being.”
The bosses said they were “committed to taking steps to eliminate the repeat of events like this in our society and committed to investing in substantive change in our organizations and the communities we serve to address racial inequities and social justice”.
The Business Roundtable lobby group said in a statement: “We grieve for the families, friends and communities of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others. These tragedies reflect longstanding racial injustice in our country.”
Additional reporting by Kadhim Shubber in Washington