Minneapolis police precinct on fire as protests rage on

MINNEAPOLIS — A police precinct was burning in Minneapolis late Thursday as protests over the death of George Floyd raged on for a third straight day.

Protesters had focused their attention on the Police Department’s 3rd Precinct, the base of four officers who were fired after Floyd’s death in their custody Monday.

A fire appeared to have spread to the interior of the stations, which police had evacuated. They cleared the building shortly after 10 p.m., when demonstrators forcibly entered and “ignited several fires,” department spokesman John Elder said.

Fires also burned on both sides of the police station as demonstrators pushed down temporary fencing and occupied property at the precinct. Officers fired tear gas from the ground and a rooftop.

The city of Minneapolis on Twitter urged people to “retreat” from the area as a precaution. “We’re hearing unconfirmed reports that gas lines to the Third Precinct have been cut and other explosive materials are in the building.”

Police said late Thursday no serious injuries had been reported.

Multiple blazes also burned on nearby blocks.

The Minnesota guard said on Twitter that 500 soldiers have been activated for duty in the Twin Cities. “Our mission is to protect life, preserve property and the right to peacefully demonstrate,” it said.

Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Thursday activating the Minnesota National Guard. A statement from the governor’s office said the order was needed after “extensive damage to private property occurred and peaceful protests evolved into a dangerous situation for protesters and first responders.”

Businesses across the Twin Cities were boarding up their windows and doors Thursday in an effort to prevent looting.

Looters on Thursday broke into a Target on University Avenue in St. Paul before police arrived, sending the raiders scrambling.

But as police circled the store and faced off with an angry crowd, looters broke into a T.J. Maxx close by and made off with whatever they could carry. That store was later reported to be on fire.

“Officers continue to be hit with rocks and bottles thrown by people who are also breaking into buildings, looting and destroying property,” St. Paul police said on Twitter.

Target, headquartered in Minneapolis, later said it was temporarily closing 24 stores in Minnesota.

An unoccupied St. Paul police cruiser in the area also appeared to have been vandalized.

“Please stay home. Please do not come here to protest,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said in a statement late Thursday afternoon.

“Please keep the focus on George Floyd, on advancing our movement, and on preventing this from ever happening again. We can all be in that fight together.”

President Donald Trump late Thursday weighed in, blaming local leadership for the unrest and threatening to deploy National Guard troops that were already in position in the Twin Cities.

“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis,” the president said on Twitter.

He called unruly demonstrators “thugs” and threatened that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

St. Paul police said that about 170 businesses had been damaged by vandalism, looting or fires.

In South Minneapolis, protesters gathered near the Police Department’s 3rd Precinct. Rocks were thrown at officers, who deployed tear gas as they moved through a crowd to get to a stabbing victim, said witness and City Council candidate A.J. Awed.

Police were later seen using a cart to roll a few civilians out of the area.

Metro Transit, which operates light rail and buses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, shut down almost all services through Sunday. An airport shuttle and its Northstar commuter line were all that remained operational.

“Out of concern for the safety of riders and employees, Metro Transit bus and light rail service will be suspended,” the transit agency announced at about 2:30 p.m.

Rosedale Center, a mall in nearby Roseville, said in Twitter it was asked by authorities to shut down.

In announcing store closures Target said in a statement, “We are heartbroken by the death of George Floyd and the pain it is causing our community. At this time, we have made the decision to close a number of our stores until further notice.”

Demonstrations also took place across the nation.

In New York City, at least 40 people were arrested as protesters took to the streets near Union Square and in Lower Manhattan, police said.

One officer was hit by a garbage can hurled at him, and another was punched in the face, according to the New York Police Department. Suspects in those incidents were among those arrested, the department said.

In Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was killed by police during a raid at her home, officers with batons and riot gear patrolled as a crowd chanted in protests. One officer was seen firing what appeared to be a paintball gun, and people in the crowd behaved as though there was an irritant in the air, video showed.

Police special adviser Jessie Halladay said that a peaceful protest had escalated, property had been damaged and bottles were thrown at officers.

In Los Angeles, demonstrators gathered outside police headquarters downtown, a peaceful contrast to Wednesday’s event, during which protesters blocked traffic on the 101 freeway and damaged California Highway Patrol vehicles.

In Denver, shots were fired near the Capitol, where a protest was taking place. But police spokesman Kurt Barnes said it wasn’t immediately clear if the gunfire was related. No injuries were reported and no one was in custody, he said

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis later expressed sadness over the state of the demonstrations. “I was absolutely shocked by video evidence of a motorist attempting to run over a protestor,” he said in a statement.

“I share the immense anguish we all feel about the unjust murder of George Floyd,” he said. “But let me be clear, senseless violence will never be healed by more violence.”

In Oakland, California about 20 protesters briefly occupied an intersection, according to NBC Bay Area.

In, Minneapolis, leaders were calling for peace: Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo all pleaded for calm.

“We must restore the peace so we can do this hard work together,” Frey said.

Jenkins said protesters should be angry about Floyd’s death in police custody, but they have no right to “perpetrate violence and harm on the very communities that you say you are standing up for.”

“We need peace and calm in our streets, and I am begging you for that calm,” she added.

National Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes said Thursday that authorities must ensure justice is served in Floyd’s death, “whatever the consequences.”

“The fact that he was a suspect in custody is immaterial — police officers should at all times render aid to those who need it,” Yoes said. “Police officers need to treat all of our citizens with respect and understanding and should be held to the very highest standards for their conduct.”

Local and federal authorities spoke at a joint press conference on Thursday, which was delayed for two hours after reports of charges possibly being announced, but no such announcement came.

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, along with Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, offered no significant updates other that to promise a swift and thorough investigation of the officers involved in the Floyd case.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Erica MacDonald said it was imperative the community understood how seriously the department was taking the investigation for Floyd’s death.

“It breaks my heart to see what is happening in our streets in Minneapolis and St. Paul and in some of our suburbs,” MacDonald said. “And I am pleading, I am pleading with individuals to stay calm and to let us conduct this investigation.”

This is a developing story, refresh here for updates.

Gabe Gutierrez reported from Minneapolis and St. Paul, David K. Li from New York and Dennis Romero reported from San Diego.

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