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Cities Look to Restore Order After Riots

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 6/1/2020 Talal Ansari, Erin Ailworth
a person standing in front of a crowd © Vanessa Carvalho/Zuma Press

MINNEAPOLIS—The worst civil unrest in decades erupted in cities across the U.S. this weekend as anger sparked by the death of a black man in Minneapolis police custody touched off demonstrations nationwide as protesters torched vehicles, smashed windows and defaced buildings.

The National Guard said about 5,000 of its personnel were activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C., to aid law enforcement with protecting lives and property, as clashes that began last week spread beyond Minnesota. In at least one city, New York, investigators said outside anarchist groups fueled the unrest. Curfews initiated over the weekend were being extended in several cities.

The Minneapolis clashes began after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died during an arrest after a white police officer kept his knee pressed into his neck during an event that was recorded on video. That came after other recent killings of African-Americans and amid severe economic stress in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, creating a highly combustible mix. 

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Stores along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile were looted, and windows were smashed. Nashville’s City Hall was set on fire. Near Los Angeles, stores along famed Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills were looted and vandalized.

In Philadelphia, where police said more than 200 people were arrested in protests Saturday, video posted to social media showed police officers hitting protesters with batons, according to footage verified by Storyful.

As new demonstrations began forming in cities across the country Sunday, volunteers were out in Los Angeles, armed with brooms, trash bags and paint thinner, sweeping up trash and broken glass and trying to scrub away graffiti after a night of rioting and looting. In Minneapolis, volunteers stood in front of the Cup Foods market where Mr. Floyd had been arrested; they passed out cans of infant formula, bags of popcorn, bottled water and other groceries to people passing by.

In Minneapolis, officials said Sunday that they had made strides in curbing lawlessness. The city looked almost militaristic, with major highways closed and a heavy presence of police and the National Guard.

The protests began after George Floyd, who is black, died Monday following an encounter with police in Minneapolis in which one officer, Derek Chauvin, was seen on videos pressing his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck while Mr. Floyd was pleading for help.

Stores along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile were looted, and windows were smashed. Nashville’s City Hall was set on fire. In Los Angeles, stores along Rodeo Drive were looted and vandalized. Video posted to social media showed police officers hitting protesters in Philadelphia with batons, according to footage verified by Storyful.

As new demonstrations began forming in cities across the country Sunday, volunteers were out in Los Angeles, armed with brooms, trash bags and paint thinner, sweeping up trash and broken glass and trying to scrub away graffiti after a night of rioting and looting. In Minneapolis, volunteers stood in front of the Cup Foods market where Mr. Floyd had been arrested; they passed out cans of infant formula, bags of popcorn, bottled water and other groceries to people passing by.

Minneapolis Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said Sunday evening that police found caches of flammables and incendiaries, some planted days ago and some in the last 24 hours. He said he could not confirm any specific extremist groups were tied to the violence.

City officials said that they had made strides in curbing lawlessness. The city looked almost militaristic, with major highways closed and a heavy presence of police and the National Guard.

“Our goal was accomplished,” said Col. Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol. “Fires were not set. We didn’t see the lawlessness, the risk to personal safety. Property destruction was stemmed.”

Demand for the state guard’s support exceeds its capabilities, even with his full force deployed, said Army Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, head of the Minnesota National Guard. He said he is working to get more national forces from other states.

“We should not get used to or accept uniformed service members of any variety having to be put into a position where they’re having to secure people inside the U.S.A.,” said Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr. of the Georgia National Guard. “This is a sign of the times that we need to do better as a country...I pray I never have to do it again.”

In several major cities, crowds formed on streets that had been quiet for nearly two months due to lockdowns as the U.S. grapples with a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people and plunged the economy into a devastating downturn.

Those infections and job losses have taken an outsize toll on minorities, and some protesters said they had been cooped up at home, often with little else to do than stew amid the anxiety.

Josh Clemons, a 31-year-old black Atlanta resident, lost his stepfather to the new coronavirus in March after a likely infection from Mr. Clemons’s mother, who is a nurse. He lamented the destructive path the disease and accompanying economic pain carved disproportionately through minority communities.

Then, he said, he watched with dismay the videos and news reports graphically depicting the killings of three African-Americans: Ahmaud Arbery outside Brunswick, Ga.; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.; and Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis. Mr. Clemons, co-director of OneRace Movement, which brings together ministries to promote racial reconciliation, said Mr. Floyd’s death was the tipping point.

“It’s time to take this to the streets,” said Mr. Clemons, whose group has organized rallies in Atlanta to pray peacefully and denounce racism. “What we’re experiencing is the climax of a lot of things.”

President Trump made no public appearances on Sunday, but he has attributed violence in Minneapolis to left-wing radical groups, without offering evidence. Protesters weren’t far from the White House on Sunday, with demonstrations beginning to form again in nearby Lafayette Park.

Attorney General William Barr said in a statement Sunday that any violence would be treated as domestic terrorism and that federal officials would work with state and local law enforcement to identify instigators.

New York Police Department investigators said Sunday they believe outside anarchist groups coordinated efforts to incite violence at the city’s weekend protests, citing communications between members on social media and encrypted platforms.

“We’re seeing a lot of outside and independent agitators connected with anarchist groups who are deliberately trying to provoke acts of violence,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller.

Overall, the protests share similarities with the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965 and the demonstrations in 1992 over the verdict in the beating of Rodney King in the same city, said Kami Chavis, director of the criminal-justice program at Wake Forest University School of Law. Both took place at times of economic and civic distress. The widespread and intense nature of the current protests set them apart from those in more-recent years, such as after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

The unemployment rate for young people in April was at the highest level on record since 1948, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—31.9% for 16- to 19-year-olds, and 25.7% for 20- to 24-year-olds. The unemployment rate for African-American workers is typically twice as high as that for whites.

Black people are disproportionately affected by Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. They represent about one-third of the total deaths from Covid-19 in the states that report racial data and make up 13% of the population in those states.

St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Melvin Carter chastised people protesting who damaged pharmacies, grocery stores and local businesses during the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.

“I am not asking you to sit to the side and patiently wait while we slowly and incrementally stem the bloody tide of African-American men killed by law enforcement,” Mr. Carter said, asking that protesters take their energy and anger for betterment and not destruction.

Vincent Dale, a 29-year-old white man, joined what he described as a peaceful protest in Los Angeles full of moms and children Saturday afternoon after watching the video of Mr. Floyd’s arrest. “I watched a man slowly begging for his life while he was executed by a police officer,” he said.

Mr. Dale said the protest suddenly turned violent when a police car ahead of the marchers was set on fire. Organizers asked marchers to turn back, he said, but police moved into the area and pushed the group into an outdoor shopping center. He said he was slightly injured when police fired projectiles at protesters, showing a fist-sized purple and red bruise on his waist.

In Minneapolis, Carl Lobley, a 25-year-old black man, said he had just gotten off probation for an accident while driving under the influence and was starting to get his life back in order with a new job at a Family Dollar when the coronavirus began spreading. He ended up on the street, sleeping in a tent and showering at his aunt’s house. Mr. Floyd’s death brought more flux, spurring him to join protests each day.

“To be a black man in America is to be in a state of rage all the time,” Mr. Lobley said.

Mr. Floyd died Monday following an encounter with police in Minneapolis in which Mr. Chauvin was seen on videos pressing his knee on his neck while Mr. Floyd was pleading for help.

Mr. Chauvin, who is white, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday after days of calls by civil-rights leaders and others for his arrest and prosecution. An investigation into the other officers and the incident is ongoing.

The Hennepin County attorney said he will work with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to investigate and prosecute cases related to Mr. Floyd’s death.

Mayors in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, San Francisco and Atlanta said they were extending curfews.

People in cities across the U.S. shared videos on social media of police and demonstrators clashing. In Brooklyn, a police SUV drove into a group of protesters, who were throwing things at them, according to a video verified by Storyful.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday he will ask the state’s attorney general to review the “actions and procedures that were used” by the police during the protests over the weekend.

In Chicago, where a 9 p.m. curfew was in place until further notice and the downtown business district is closed to everyone but workers and residents, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, “I stand shoulder to shoulder with those who have come out peacefully” to protest the killing of Mr. Floyd and others, but that lawlessness won’t be tolerated.

Hundreds of people have been arrested across the country, as rioters torched cars and buildings, screamed and hurled fireworks and other things at police.

In Los Angeles, around 400 people were arrested Saturday, according to the city’s police chief. There were 340 arrests in New York and 240 in Chicago, where one person was also killed in a shooting, officials said.

In New York, officials said 47 police vehicles were vandalized in Saturday’s demonstrations, including a number of vehicles that were set on fire, and 33 NYPD officers were injured.

In an interview, Mr. Brown said he went to Minneapolis to support Mr. Floyd’s family and speak out against what he sees as injustice as he has repeatedly since his son’s death. He said Mr. Floyd’s death and the protests have dredged up the past.

“The wound has been opened back up, there wasn’t never a scab anyway, it wasn’t never just healed,” he said. “That’s how me and the family and the community feels.”

The Justice Department under the Obama administration investigated the case but didn’t bring charges against the police officer who killed his son.

Around him, hundreds gathered, chanting for justice and calling for the prosecution of police. Flowers and protest signs lay piled nearby—an ever-growing memorial to Mr. Floyd, whose face has been painted in a mural on the side of Cup Foods. A circle above his head contains the names of others killed by police.

Write to Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com, Talal Ansari at Talal.Ansari@wsj.com, Erin Ailworth at Erin.Ailworth@wsj.com and Valerie Bauerlein at valerie.bauerlein@wsj.com


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