[NEW YORK] A Minneapolis police station was overrun and set ablaze by protesters Thursday night as destructive demonstrations raged in the city and spread across the country overnight Friday after the death of George Floyd, an African American man, in police custody.
He died after pleading, "I can't breathe," while a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck. The death set off days of continuing protests and scattered looting of stores in the city, as demonstrators denounced another in a long line of fatal encounters between African Americans and law enforcement officers.
President Donald Trump, who previously called the video of Floyd's death "shocking," later called the protesters "thugs" on Twitter and said that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," prompting the social media network to attach a warning to the tweet, saying that it violated the company's rules about "glorifying violence."
The spectacle of a police station in flames and a president appearing to threaten violence against those protesting the death of a black man in police custody - set against the backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic that has kept many residents from engaging with one another directly for months - added to the anxiety of a nation already plagued by health and economic crises.
Tera Brown, Floyd's cousin, has said: "I want to see action. This was clearly murder."
The demonstration near the Minneapolis Police Department's 3rd Precinct grew more intense in the hours after prosecutors said that they had not decided whether to charge the officer videotaped pressing his knee into Floyd's neck for about eight minutes.
The protests have spread across the state, leading to the evacuation Thursday afternoon of lawmakers and employees from the state Capitol in St Paul as a precaution.
Other protests - many peaceful, some convulsed by violence - were reported across the country.
The state Capitol in Denver was put on lockdown after someone fired a gun near a peaceful demonstration, and protests in Columbus, Ohio, turned chaotic as crowds surged up the steps of the state Capitol and broke windows, videos posted by news outlets showed. The Columbus Dispatch reported that officers also used pepper spray on large crowds of demonstrators downtown after a few protesters tossed smoke bombs and water bottles at lines of officers.
In Phoenix, hundreds of protesters marched toward the state Capitol with relative calm, according to news reports, before tense face-offs with police officers later in the night.
The burning of a police station: The mayor says the importance of life outweighs the symbolism of a building.
The anger and the rage in Minneapolis have been building for days.
After prosecutors announced Thursday that they had not decided whether to charge the police officer who was caught on video with his knee pressed against the neck of Floyd as the man begged for air, that rage turned to chaos.
Outside the Minneapolis Police Department's 3rd Precinct station house, the crowds surged, with some people tossing fireworks and other items at officers, while the police fired projectiles back.
The standoff soon spiraled out of control, with officers retreating from the police station in vehicles just after 10 pm Thursday local time as protesters stormed the building - smashing equipment, lighting fires and setting off fireworks, according to videos posted from the scene.
"We're starting fires in here, so be careful," one man could be heard shouting as sprinklers doused protesters who had burst inside.
Flames rose from the front of the building as hundreds of protesters looked on, and soon smoke was billowing from the roof.
Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis said at a news conference Friday morning that he had made the call for officers to flee the 3rd Precinct, saying, "The symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the importance of life."
Mr Frey, a Democrat, said he understood the anger of the city's residents but pleaded with people to stop destroying property and looting stores.
"It's not just enough to do the right thing yourself," he said. "We need to be making sure that all of us are held accountable."
Mr Frey also gave a fiery retort to Trump's tweets during a news conference Friday morning.
"Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions," he said. "Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis."
"Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis," he added.
As the unrest escalated, Gov Tim Walz of Minnesota activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency in the Twin Cities after he saw the level of destruction from Wednesday's protest - buildings on fire, clashes with police and looted stores. Five hundred members of the Minnesota National Guard were sent to Minneapolis and St Paul.
"Unfortunately, some individuals have engaged in unlawful and dangerous activity, including arson, rioting, looting, and damaging public and private property," Mr Walz wrote in his proclamation. "These activities threaten the safety of lawful demonstrators and other Minnesotans, and both first responders and demonstrators have already been injured."