Minneapolis Set on Fire After George Floyd Death

May 28, 2020Joshua Skovlund
george floyd riots minneapolis

A protester ignited a mortar round 20 feet from the barricades with the goal of illuminating the police for a second time. As the mortar sparked to life, police peppered the protestor with less lethal munitions, causing him to drop the mortar mid-throw. The round was lying on the ground when it exploded moments later, sending colorful sparks and an ear shattering sound through the crowd.

George Floyd died May 25, 2020, after Minneapolis Police Officers Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane pressed down on Floyd’s legs, back, and neck with their knees during his arrest. Chauvin, who was the officer shown in the now-viral video with his knee on Floyd’s neck, is accused of being directly responsible for the death. All four officers have been fired, and investigations are currently underway by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the FBI to establish any possible criminal charges, including civil rights violations.

The incident sparked protests that have devolved into riots. Coffee or Die was on the ground for the second night of protesting.

Police outside of the 3rd Precinct. Photo by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die.

Around 6 PM CDT Wednesday, the Oakdale Police channel aired alerts of large groups of protesters gathering at Chauvin’s house for the second night in a row since the officer’s address was leaked to the public. Protesters from the previous evening were also regrouping outside of the MPD’s 3rd Precinct. Police officers were already calling for more backup due to protesters stealing barricades, causing the officers to be at risk of being overrun. SWAT teams maneuvered to reestablish their security base to keep the protesters at bay. 

“If most people, particularly people of color, had done what a police officer did late Monday, they’d already be behind bars,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey tweeted earlier Wednesday. “That’s why today I’m calling on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to charge the arresting officer in this case.”

A Minneapolis police officer speaking on background said, “Almost every Minneapolis Police Officer no longer wants to work for the mayor of Minneapolis.” He believes that the mayor’s public statements have been fueling the anger leading to riots throughout the Twin Cities. 

Outside the Minneapolis Police 3rd Precinct Wednesday night, the sound of helicopter rotors and loud explosions cut through the humid spring air. Police officers had learned from Tuesday night’s protests, and they were perched on top of the precinct, taking the high ground in order to suppress attacks on the building. All the officers were armed with less lethal munitions and wearing gas masks. 

Police on top of the 3rd Precinct. Photo by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die.

The Target parking lot and other businesses surrounding the precinct were filled with vehicles blasting rap music. Motorcycles and cars were burning out in the parking lot as protesters continually filed into the roads around the precinct. When the police officers’ next barrage of tear gas canisters were expended, the burning sensation overtook the senses with choruses of coughing, gagging, and running noses. But the tear gas didn’t deter the protesters for long — and seemed to encourage a backlash.

“Arms up, don’t shoot!” was an ongoing chant echoed by the protesters. Several also screamed, “Stop fucking shooting us!” The situation rapidly devolved into chaos. There were two types of people outside the police precinct — protesters and rioters. The protesters stayed true to their mission, remaining peaceful and doing what they came there to do. The rioters, on the other hand, threw large rocks, bricks, fireworks, and water bottles filled with either urine or milk at the police. Many of the peaceful protesters were yelling at the rioters to stop. 

Large barricades were set up by the protesters to protect them from the rubber bullets and 40mm less lethal rounds the police were using. After one rioter threw a large rock at the police, he immediately received an effective volley of less lethal rounds to his chest and neck area, dropping him to the ground screaming in pain. Several protesters wearing medical crosses on their clothing rushed him off to assess and treat him. 

Police officers on the roof of the precinct lobbed flash-bang grenades and tear gas as rioters came in waves, throwing items at the police while officers returned volley after volley of less lethal munitions.

One of the rioters threw another large rock at the police line, but this time the police implemented what they call “green tips.” The content of the round explodes a green powder to mark whoever was participating in criminal actions. The sound of a green tip impacting a person produces a sound similar to a live round from a firearm. This person was also rushed off to the aid station set up by protesters. 

Protesters in front of the barricades. Photo by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die.

Several participants were running around with milk and vinegar water to combat the effects of the heavy duty mace and tear gas the police were using. All around, protesters were dumping water bottles onto their faces. There were a few participants that came ready with gas masks. 

At one point, a group of Native Americans walked by chanting; one had a staff and rattle, another carried a leather top drum. They were singing amongst the large group of protesters. 

The precinct sits at the intersection of East Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. Most of the peaceful protesters were to the north, and the more aggressive protesters and rioters positioned themselves right in front of the precinct and to the south. There was a barricade set up on the southeast street corner outside of the destroyed Minnehaha Lake Wine and Spirits. This was an area the rioters were using for cover while hurling projectiles at the officers, so police concentrated their less lethal volleys at that location as well. 

Just behind this location is where the rioter dropped the mortar round. This action brought anger out of the peaceful protesters with several screaming at the individuals to stop throwing things and to stop aggravating the police. The peaceful protesters were angry at the rioters for disrupting their mission with violence and destruction of property. Many think that police brutality has reached a tipping point and that their message is being diluted by media coverage that focuses on the aggressive acts of rioters.   

Protester holding their hands up during the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” chant. Photo by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die.

In the distance, the sound of a chainsaw firing up caused protesters to start running. People were maintaining their distance from the chainsaw-wielding individual as he buzzed buildings and vehicles. As the spring afternoon transitioned to night, the violence and destruction escalated. 

Shouts of “fire!” were heard in the Auto Zone parking lot kitty-corner from the precinct. This store has been subjected to large amounts of damage along with the other surrounding businesses. The building was covered in graffiti and several windows had been smashed out. Smoke was rising approximately 70 feet away. Several rioters and protesters were starting to gather in the parking lot. 

Rioters appeared to be throwing some sort of accelerant on the fire. The flames built rapidly with small and loud pops and booms inside the store. Many protesters were screaming at people to get away due to the large amount of flammable liquids and items in the store. Several people posed within a couple feet of the flames leaping out of the store’s shattered windows, taking photos and video chatting with their friends or family. 

Rioters started looting the Target, Auto Zone, and liquor store — all businesses in the immediate area of the precinct. Many were also attempting to light the same businesses on fire. As the Auto Zone burned and the flames grew, the police and fire department made it clear they weren’t going to risk moving in to save the building. After thick black smoke started to billow out of the store, sirens were heard in the distance. Several police squads and Minneapolis Fire trucks rolled in to establish a security perimeter and put out the fire. The police didn’t waste any time displaying a show of force and pushing the protesters and rioters out of the area.

Their volleys of less lethal increased quickly. 

Auto Zone on fire. Photo by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die.

While the police and fire departments worked on putting out the blaze, rioters aimed green lasers into the officers’ eyes on top of the precinct. The lasers were shut down quickly with less lethal. 

At this point, many of the remaining rioters were reaching a new level of aggression. Several screamed for the murder of police officers. “Someone kill a pig!” and “Fuck the police up!” could be heard throughout the night. Multiple buildings were on fire, and the situation was officially a runaway train leaving nothing but destruction in its path. Law enforcement made an offensive push and cleared protesters, rioters, and journalists back approximately a block. They launched several tear gas canisters, creating a wall of gas. 

The chainsaw-wielding rioter came strolling past, revving the chainsaw and swinging it back and forth, not seeming to care if anyone was within its reach. Some whispered about pipe bombs being carried into the area in backpacks, as well as a protester armed with an AR-style rifle and a loaded 50-round drum magazine.

Police securing the Minneapolis Fire Truck outside the fire in Auto Zone. Photo by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die.

Toward the end of the evening, the riots spread to the east, breaking into more businesses and rapidly looting stores. Across the street, the windows of vehicles in a small car lot were smashed out. One rioter somehow managed to either find the keys or hot wire it before speeding off with the stolen vehicle. 

The Minnesota National Guard was eventually called in to assist the 3rd precinct officers, as were state troopers and other local law enforcement. Several more buildings were set on fire and multiple people were injured; one has been confirmed dead. The Star Tribune reported “at least five people struck by gunfire, one fatally when the owner of a pawn shop opened fire on a man he believed was burglarizing his business.”

It’s unclear when the violence and destruction will end. At the time of publication, a third night of rioting is underway in the city of Minneapolis. 

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.

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