Protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death intensified Thursday night as protesters gained access to the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct building, setting it on fire and forcing officers to evacuate.
In an early Friday news conference, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he made the decision to surrender the building as the crowd of protesters grew and tensions escalated on the third night of demonstrations following the death of Floyd, a black man who died in police custody after a white officer pinned him to the ground under his knee.
“It became obvious to me that safety was at risk,” Frey said, pledging that police would continue to serve residents in the precinct and that the building was “just bricks and mortar.”
The Minneapolis Police Department said in a statement that the precinct was evacuated shortly after 10 p.m. “in the interest of the safety of our personnel.” The MPD confirmed that protesters “ignited several fires,” but didn’t offer additional information.
Protesters celebrated cheering, honking car horns and setting off fireworks as fires burned at the precinct.
Hundreds of protesters flooded Minneapolis streets earlier Thursday for a march through downtown. Traffic was halted as a crowd of people stretched for up to four blocks. Protesters shouted “I can’t breathe” and “no justice, no peace; prosecute the police” as volunteer marshals in highlighter-colored vests directed traffic.
“The people of Minneapolis are not just protesting the public execution of George Floyd they’re fighting for their lives. Mr. Floyd’s death in addition to the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor is yet another reminder of American law enforcement’s toxic tradition of abuse, negligence, violence, and discrimination toward black people,” Scott Roberts, senior director of criminal justice campaigns at Color Of Change, said in a statement.
“The protests in Minneapolis are efforts by black and brown activists to rise up against centuries-old racism within the police department and prosecutors office and resist the white supremacy that has claimed far too many black lives.”
The demonstration began after a round of speeches that started at 5 p.m. at the Hennepin County Government Center. Mel Reeves, a longtime activist in the city, encouraged the crowd to be peaceful.
He said officials use damaging or violent protests to distract from the true issue of police brutality.
“They wanna use us to keep us from getting justice … they act like animals, then wanna make us look like animals,” Reeves told the crowd before directing them down South Third Avenue.
“George Floyd’s death should lead to justice and systemic change, not more death and destruction,” Governor Tim Walz said.
Meeting with reporters early Friday, Frey pleaded for residents’ help: “We need to make sure that people are looking out for our city right now.”
Just after 6 p.m., a crowd of at least 300 people gathered at the intersection of Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. As smoke from several burned-out buildings filled the air, protesters chanted and demanded justice.
“We can’t breathe,” they yelled. “We can’t breathe.”
While the core of the protest focused on police brutality and institutional racism, it also took on, at times, the air of a carnival, with young men and women riding bikes into the area to watch.