Dispatch from Minneapolis: the night the city cracked down on George Floyd protests

Protesters who refused to obey the curfew Saturday faced teargas, flash bombs and baton rounds from police

A man takes a knee near the fifth precinct police station during the George Floyd protests on Saturday, 30 May 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A man takes a knee near the fifth precinct police station during the George Floyd protests on Saturday, 30 May 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photograph: Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

The governor had promised Saturday would be different and it was.

As the clock ticked toward the 8pm curfew in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the fifth precinct police station in a particular show of defiance.

The previous evening, they had refused to obey the curfew and when push came to shove it was the police who retreated. What followed – looting and burning along a two-mile stretch of Lake Street, a busy shopping thoroughfare – led the Minnesota governor, Tim Walz, to mobilize the national guard and say there would be no repeat.

Outside the fifth precinct station on Saturday, some protesters were certain that if they kept it peaceful they would be allowed to make their point. They were still demanding justice for George Floyd, who was killed by a member of the same Minneapolis police force they were now facing down.

But not long after the curfew kicked in, any such illusions were quickly dispelled. A line of state police in riot gear appeared from a side street. A call for the protesters to disperse was swiftly followed by teargas, flash bombs and baton rounds. As the crowd surged away, the police moved rapidly forward in line, driving people back with more gas and rounds.

Minnesota state patrol officers march toward protesters gathered near the Minneapolis police fifth precinct.
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Minnesota state patrol officers march toward protesters gathered near the Minneapolis police fifth precinct. Photograph: Adam Bettcher/Reuters

It quickly became clear that after Walz was humiliated by the events of Friday night, he had no intention of being embarrassed again.

The governor had laid the ground earlier in the day when he said the protests had been hijacked by “elements” of domestic terrorism, ideological extremism and international destabilization, making it politically easier to escalate the use of force.

Whoever the protesters were, sympathy for their cause among many people in the area was tempered by anger over the destruction of locally owned businesses and fear that violence might spread to the streets where people lived.

Residents of the surrounding blocks didn’t wait for the police and organized their own security, throwing up makeshift barriers with bollards, roadworks signs and metal posts. Some carried guns.

As the protesters fled the fifth precinct station, the police kept up pursuit. Some demonstrators tried to build barriers and make a stand but were overwhelmed. Eventually though, the scattered crowd came together again on Lake Street and several hundred people began to march its length, chanting George Floyd’s name and calling for the arrest of other police officers involved in his death.

Chris McGreal (@ChrisMcGreal)

Protesters regrouped and now marching down Lake st, scene of last’s night’s devastation #GeorgeFloyd #GeorgeFloydProtests pic.twitter.com/mpx5buFF9A

May 31, 2020

But within 15 minutes, the police and national guard descended again, coming at the marchers from both ends of the street with waves of teargas and baton rounds. That sent the protesters scattering into residential areas to the alarm of people living there.

As the police pursued them, officers also at times fired on residents guarding their streets. One Latino house owner cursed the police and the demonstrators.

Chris McGreal (@ChrisMcGreal)

Police moving through residential neighbourhoods bordering shops looted and burned in Minneapolis on Friday night. These residents were pleased to see them #GeorgeFloydProtests pic.twitter.com/JGPOVoVCxl

May 31, 2020

“I don’t like the police and I don’t like the protesters. The police abandoned us for days and now they’re here they’re shooting at us defending ourselves,” he said.

Outside a house on a neighbouring block, Jeff Schibilla had armed himself.

“I’m OK with freedom of speech. I’m not OK with you ruining my neighbourhood. I’ve got elderly neighbours on both sides of me and across the street who need protecting,” he said. “I’ve lost my job because of coronavirus after 22 years. But I’m not out here pillaging and looting.”

Chris McGreal (@ChrisMcGreal)

Jeff Schibilla armed and ready to protect his house as protesters battled with police a block away. He backed the demand for justice for #GeorgeFloyd but had little sympathy for people he knew who looted: "I lost my job because of coronavirus but I’m not out here pillaging”. pic.twitter.com/IZsREEJ2BC

May 31, 2020

Schibilla said that while he had no doubt that people from outside the city were involved in the trouble, he also knew people who had taken part in the looting.

“They came around here trying to sell stuff, electronics and stuff, at pennies on the dollar. I’m not going to turn them in but they’re not my friends any more.”

A few minutes later, and about three hours after the first clashes, the police and national guard came down his street. Schibilla stood in his garden and cheered them.