MINNEAPOLIS -- Peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd picked up steam as darkness fell Friday, with thousands of people ignoring an 8 p.m. curfew to walk streets in the southern part of Minneapolis.
Some cars were set on fire in scattered neighborhoods, business break-ins began and eventually there were larger fires as lawless protesters outflanked authorities and converged on the 5th Precinct police station at 31st Street and Nicollet Avenue.
Several fires were burning in the area, including a Wells Fargo bank branch kitty-corner from the police station, a U.S. post office and a commercial building.
A heavy contingent of newly activated National Guard, state troopers and police were moving in around midnight, some on foot and some in vehicles while confronting a third straight night of nearly unchecked looting, vandalism and arson.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety said on Twitter than 350 personnel were in the area and arresting people who refused to disperse.
Gov. Tim Walz delivered a live address at 1:30 a.m. with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen of the Minnesota National Guard.
“Go home,” Walz urged protesters who had embraced violence while also admitting that public safety personnel were overwhelmed.
“Quite candidly we do not have the numbers,” Walz said.
To that end, the National Guard is activating another 1,000 soldiers to join the 500 who were called up Thursday. Walz said that would constitute the largest peacetime force ever assembled in Minnesota.
The Pentagon also took the rare step Friday of ordering the Army to put several active-duty U.S. military police units on the ready to deploy to Minneapolis.
Jensen, the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, said that option remained on the table.
Harrington said the troublemakers, whom he termed “entrenched rioters,” had grown more dangerous. Some security personnel had been subjected to gunfire, though no one was injured. Harrington also said there was evidence of outside agitators arriving in Minneapolis to stoke unrest.
Two miles to the east of the 5th Precinct, protesters on Thursday torched the 3rd Precinct police station soon after it was abandoned by police and vandalized dozens of businesses. Early Saturday, another large fire was burning in the vicinity of the 3rd Precinct, according to KSTP-TV’s helicopter coverage.
Following the Friday afternoon announcement by law enforcement officials that fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, had been arrested and charged with murdering Floyd, who was black, thousands of protesters again gathered in front of the Hennepin County Government Center to demand justice.
Demonstrators then marched through downtown and onto Interstate 35W, shutting down its southbound lanes. The freeway occupation was continuing early Saturday.
Closer to the battered 3rd Precinct, which was left to burn Thursday night, officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to drive back crowds of protesters.
Earlier Friday, the neighborhood surrounding the 3rd Precinct cleaned up.
National Guard members carrying assault rifles were lined up at some intersections ahead of an 8 p.m. curfew, keeping people away from the police station on East Lake Street. Dozens of volunteers swept up broken glass in the street.
The precinct building, which was abandoned by its contingent of officers about 10 p.m. Thursday after protesters breached a hastily erected perimeter fence, was just one of many buildings set ablaze during the chaos overnight.
Several businesses that survived the first round of rioting the night before were reduced to smoldering rubble by dawn. Community-led cleanup efforts were underway Friday in much of the city, including the heavily damaged area around Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue as well as Uptown.
Among the scores of casualties was Ghandi Mahal, an Indian restaurant located about a block away from the third precinct. In a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page, owner Ruhel Islam’s daughter, Hafsa, thanked “our ￼neighbors who did their best to stand guard and protect Gandhi Mahal.”
“Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover,” she wrote.
She also quoted her father: “Let my building burn,” he said, according to the post. “Justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.”
A nearby U.S. post office on East 31st Street also burned overnight. The popular Hexagon Bar on 27th Avenue South was destroyed by fire, and the public library branch on East Lake Street was damaged.
Dean Hanson, 64, lives in a subsidized housing unit nearby, which is home to many older residents. He said his building lost electricity overnight, and residents were terrified as they watched mobs of people loot and burn their way through the neighborhood.
“I can’t believe this is happening here,” he said. “It was pure hell.”