June 1 (UPI) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison accepted the governor’s request to lead the prosecution related to the police-involved death of George Floyd as protests seeking justice for his killing turned violent throughout the country.
Protests have raged throughout the United States since Monday when Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed while handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
At least five people have died since in connection to the civil unrest that has upended cities, forced governors to activate the National Guard and caused dozens of curfews to be imposed.
Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who has since been fired and was seen in footage of Floyd’s death with his knee on the prostrate suspect’s neck, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Ellison “needs to lead this case.”
Walz said during a press conference the protesters are making clear they don’t trust the system and that they see it as designed to deny justice to communities of color, and that the government must start restoring trust and faith in that system.
“When I spoke to the Floyd family, they were very clear they wanted the system to work for them, they wanted to believe that there was trust and they wanted to believe the facts would be heard and justice would be served,” the Democratic governor said. “And I can tell you in Minnesota, having Keith Ellison as the lead on this case, that will happen.”
Ellison said he accepts the responsibility “with a large degree of humility.”
He warned the public that prosecuting police officers for misconduct, including homicide, is very difficult and that every aspect of their prosecution will be attacked by the defense, but they intend to be “absolutely prepared.”
“I want to ask you for your trust that we are pursuing truth, we are pursuing it relentlessly and we are pursuing it on behalf of the state of Minnesota,” he said to the public.
In Washington, D.C., police fired pepper bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters near the White House on Sunday night as authorities responded to multiple fires.
D.C. Fire and EMS said fires at a comfort station in Lafayette Square and the lobby of AFL-CIO had been extinguished, as had a basement fire in the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, all within a short walk to the White House.
“This church has been standing in our city since the early 1800s,” the D.C. Police Department tweeted. “Please avoid the area.”
Police reported groups of people broke into a Target and a shopping mall, resulting in several arrests. The Metropolitan Police Department said in a release at least 17 people were charged with felony rioting, destruction of property, looting, theft and other such crimes over Saturday night with several others sought in connection to the crimes.
Late Sunday, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the enforcement of an 11 p.m. curfew and that she had activated the National Guard to support local police.
Police use of either flashbangs or tear gas to disperse protesters has been reported in several cities, including Denver, Atlanta and Cincinnati.
In Boston, police said seven officers were transported to the hospital and more were treated on the streets as protests devolved into violence and chaos over Sunday night that saw 21 police cruisers damaged.
Forty people were arrested, the Boston Police Department tweeted.
Mayor Marty Walsh said he thanks the protesters who demonstrated peacefully and said their message was heard while expressing anger over those “who came into our city and chose to engage in acts of destruction and violence undermining their message.”
“If we are to achieve change and if we are to lead the change, our efforts must be rooted in peace and regard for our community,” he tweeted.
The peaceful demonstrations devolved into violence after the sun went down, and police fired pepper spray at protesters after 9 p.m. after officers were hit with objects, WCVB 5 reported.
In Philadelphia, where the curfew was pushed back to 6 p.m. after it was set for 8 p.m. the day prior, police said early Monday 137 people had been arrested, including 91 for code violation notices, 43 for looting or burglary, and one for assault of a police officer.
Philadelphia’s managing director Brian Abernathy told reporters that stores had been looted throughout Sunday and at least five officers were injured, four vehicles were burned and officers were pelted with bricks, rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Mayor Jim Kenney, referring to the looters as “anarchists,” said the looting and destruction of public property have “saddened and disappointed me beyond words.”
“I’m sure it saddened every Philadelphian who takes pride in our city — especially the thousands of Philadelphians who came out earlier in the day yesterday to peacefully yet forcefully protest,” he said during the press conference. “They made a tremendous statement about their decades of anger over a system that degrades black Americans because of the color of their skin.”
Abernathy said the National Gaurd has been asked to support local law enforcement and to protect “our assets” as well as “sensitive areas.”
Nearly 62,000 National Gaurd soldiers and airmen have been activated in 24 states to respond to civil disturbances, including the protests, national disasters and the coronavirus pandemic, but the number is expected to grow as civil unrest continues in the wake of Floyd’s death, the National Guard said in a statement.
Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Joseph Lengyel announced that about 5,000 National Guard members had been activated in 15 states and Washington, D.C., on Sunday with approximately 2,000 standing by.
“Responding to civil unrest is the hardest mission your National Guard does. Our unique longstanding partnerships with local civilian first responders mean we are always ready, always there to help, when needed, where it’s needed,” said Lengyel.
President Donald Trump called on Philadelphia and other cities and states led by Democratic leaders to activate the National Guard in a series of tweets on Sunday describing the protesters as “anarchists.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee activated an additional 200 members of the National Guard on Sunday in response to a request from the city of Seattle. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ communications director said he had activated 400 National Guard members throughout the state on Saturday. And Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp activated up to 3,000 National Gaurd troops ahead of the Sunday protests.
Additionally, more than 40 cities imposed curfews for Sunday, while Texas and Virginia issued a state of emergency.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued a Declaration of Emergency at the request of local leaders and imposed a weeklong 8 p.m. curfew.
“This gives law enforcement an additional tool to prevent the lawlessness we’ve seen here and in cities nationwide,” Ducey tweeted. “Police will be equipped to make arrests of individuals who are planning to riot, loot or cause damage and unrest.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said late Sunday that protests in Murfreesboro were “no longer peaceful,” stating he has authorized the state’s highway patrol and the National Guard to provide support “on the ground in restoring order for the safety of our citizens.”
Demonstrations in the city some 34 miles southeast of Nashville had escalated to “overt threats to public safety and property,” he tweeted without elaborating.
Shane McFarland, Murfreesboro mayor, issued a State of Emergency late Sunday after a curfew was imposed at 6:30 p.m.
The escalating unrest followed protests turning violent in Nashville on Saturday night, and Lee announced that the Department of Homeland Security, with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and local police, have launched an investigation into “unlawful incidents that occurred.”
“The right to peaceful protest is foundational to our country, but the violence and vandalism that occurred in Nashville last night was unlawful and tears at the fabric of our community,” Lee said in a statement. “We have reason to believe that many of those involved in unlawful acts are not Tennesseans and we will be working with law enforcement to investigate this further and bring those to justice.”
In Minneapolis, police arrested protesters on Washington Avenue for violating the 8 p.m. curfew.
The Minneapolis Police Department said 15 minutes before the curfew was enforced, an alert was sent to all cellphones.
When the group failed to leave, officers encircled them, recovering one firearm, police tweeted.
Late Sunday, the Minneapolis Police Department said incendiary materials and accelerants, such as water bottles filled with gasoline, had been found hidden in bushes throughout neighborhoods in the city.
Some areas took additional precautions ahead of continued protests as Minnesota closed all major highways and Chicago closed the central business district and the Loop area to all except employees and residents.
Due to the protests, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez postponed plans to reopen beaches in the county following shutdowns to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a strongly worded statement on Sunday, Attorney General William Barr blamed the looting and rioting on “groups of outside radicals and agitators” who are “exploiting the situation to pursue their own, separate, violent and extremist agenda.”
“It is time to stop watching the violence and to confront and stop it,” he said. “The continued violence and destruction of property endangers the lives and livelihoods of others, and interferes with the rights of peaceful protesters, as other citizens.”
Barr threatened groups instigating violence that they will be charged for committing domestic terrorism.