The shocking abandonment of a police precinct station prompted Gov. Tim Walz to facilitate a takeover, he told reporters at a press conference on Friday.
“It seemed at that point in time that that was a time to move,” he said.
Rioters flooded into the station after police officers suddenly left, setting fires and destroying most things in sight.
State officials worried that sending armed law enforcement and soldiers could act as a catalyst, considering the protests started with the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, after he was arrested by police. “My point to that was, is, we don’t need a catalyst to that, it’s already burning,” Walz said, pledging to correct what he described as a lack of leadership from the day before.
National Guard soldiers and Minnesota State Patrol members were on the ground Friday holding areas they seized from rioters around 3 a.m., including the 3rd Precinct station and a three-block radius around it.
Saying some form of martial law is an option, Walz described the people who caused destruction as a “quick moving group of anarchists” and admitted he may have moved too slow to commandeer operations from local officials.
The governor was informed by Minneapolis officials on Thursday afternoon of the possible abandonment of the precinct station but didn’t trigger the response until 10 p.m., when officers evacuated.
Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, Minnesota National Guard adjutant general, said he woke up Thursday morning to a notification of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey requesting support from soldiers.
But—unlike what usually happens—the National Guard was not given a mission assignment, making them unable to move into the city even as darkness fell and buildings burned.
Phone calls to the number listed on the Minneapolis mayor’s website met a busy signal.
Frey told reporters around 2 a.m. that he ordered the abandonment of the precinct station when it became apparent “that we could take a different route that would better assist both the public as well as the safety of our officers.”
He wasn’t asked questions about potential issues with the National Guard.
Phone calls to Minneapolis Police Department media officials weren’t returned.
Jensen, the National Guard officer, said he was concerned about soldiers being asked to move “in the cover of darkness” to an unfamiliar part of Minneapolis. The troops eventually arrived at 3rd precinct area about five hours after the building was abandoned and burned, but only through an order by Walz.
In contrast to Minneapolis officials, St. Paul officials gave a clear mission for help providing security to two buildings, freeing local officers to respond around the city to other places.
Soldiers are now working with Minneapolis Police Department officers on a mission that Jensen declined to detail.
When rioters remaining on the streets saw the soldiers and patrol officers approaching, the vast majority left, according to John Harrington, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Some of those who didn’t leave were arrested for crimes including burglary and larceny.
Stores across the city were broken into, looted, and burned as law and order collapsed in the wake of Floyd’s death. City and state officials called on people to halt the unlawful actions as soldiers went to pharmacies, banks, grocery stores, and other key businesses to try to prevent looting.
Groups of armed men have patrolled outside some companies since the protests started Tuesday.
Walz and other state officials promised events on Friday won’t unfold like those on Thursday. Harrington said officers would be careful not violate people’s First Amendment rights during enforcement.
An executive order capping gatherings at 10 because of the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t being enforced on people who are mourning Floyd’s death, Walz said.
Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison paraphrased Martin Luther King Jr., telling reporters: “Riot is the way that the unheard get heard.”
“He didn’t condone it but he said to the nation, as a person who always protested peacefully, that: don’t just dismiss that and ignore it and relegate it to criminality and bad behavior. Actually ask yourself what’s going on there and is it something that we as a society must pay attention to,” said Ellison, who declined to condemn the rioters.
Minnesota criminal statutes make county prosecutors in charge of prosecutions in their county. In the case of Floyd’s death, that’s Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
Freeman told reporters Thursday that “justice cannot be rushed” but Ellison said a message sent to the county attorney was: “the wheels of justice must turn swiftly.”
“It is important that people have confident that accountability, no matter who you may be, is how we live in Minnesota,” he added.