Jeremiah Ellison was passing out water bottles to protesters near the Minneapolis Police Third Precinct on Tuesday night when a teenage girl emerged from the crowd, bleeding from the head, and stumbled toward him.
Ellison, a Minneapolis City Council member, happened to be holding a towel he’d pulled from his pocket a moment earlier. He helped her sit down and wipe the blood from her face.
“I’m just holding this bloody towel like, ‘This is out of control. This is completely out of control,’ ” Ellison said Wednesday, describing the encounter.
“The police in the city failed us last night,” he said.
Ellison was among those condemning the Minneapolis Police Department’s response to well over a thousand people who broke state-ordered limitations on public gatherings Tuesday night to protest the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died shortly after being restrained by officers from the Third Precinct.
Video of the incident shows an officer identified as Derek Chauvin pinning Floyd on the street while Floyd pleads repeatedly that he can’t breathe, and as bystanders ask the officers to stop.
Mayor Jacob Frey on midday Wednesday commended the “99 percent” of peaceful protesters and empathized with their desire to protest. But he said Chief Medaria Arradondo deployed the officers to stop protesters after some broke windows at the precinct building and in squad cars, both of which had live ammunition and guns inside.
“He told me that he could not run the risk of one tragedy leading to another,” Frey said. “Our chief made the decision and I support our chief. I trust his judgment.”
Tuesday’s protest started peacefully around 5 p.m., as mask-wearing crowds gathered outside Cup Foods in south Minneapolis, the same spot where the officers had detained Floyd less than 24 hours earlier.
As the protest marched to the Third Precinct, several demonstrators smashed windows and hurled objects at the precinct building. They then vandalized squad cars parked outside.
Officers in riot gear responded with force, flooding Lake Street with tear gas and flash-bangs and shooting fluorescent marking rounds and other less-lethal projectiles indiscriminately into the crowd.
A similar scene played out there late Wednesday. Protesters tossed bottles and rocks at officers, who again responded with projectiles, tear gas and flash bombs.
Also Wednesday night, looting broke out at the Lake Street Target store, where intruders carted off large TVs, clothing and food, and at nearby Minnehaha Lake Wine & Spirits.
Late Wednesday, protesters set fire to the AutoZone across the street from Third Precinct headquarters. While some protesters tried to put the fire out, others gleefully posed for selfies in front of the flames.
Calls for change
Ellison, who ran for office after participating in demonstrations following the 2015 police shooting of Jamar Clark, said he felt helpless to stop what he described on Twitter as Tuesday’s “disgusting display” by police.
“The police always respond this way to crowds, and things always get out of hand,” he said. “And I don’t know how the strategy doesn’t change. And I’ll tell you right now I’ve made calls requesting that the strategy change, and it still has not.”
Ellison witnessed some protesters throwing objects at police. But he said the police response didn’t match the protesters’ actions, and the people he saw getting hurt were all peaceful.
“I feel like the police, and we as elected officials who manage the police, had a responsibility to respond more compassionately and more intelligently,” he said. “And we didn’t do that last night.”
Other council members also criticized police actions Tuesday.
Council Member Andrea Jenkins, who represents the area where Floyd was arrested, said the protest outside Cup Foods was “one of the most peaceful rallies I have been to.” She said she had begged Arradondo and Frey to not have officers use force on protesters.
“I’m disappointed, I’m distressed, I’m disturbed by the use of force last night,” she said.
Council Member Andrew Johnson, who represents much of the area covered by protesters Tuesday, said he wanted answers as to why police officers used chemicals and projectiles.
“What I saw from some of the scenes last night looked to be disproportionate and escalating force,” he said. “It’s extremely concerning, and we need answers and accountability for that.”
At a news conference Wednesday, Arradondo said that while most protesters were peaceful, others had “disregarded the notion of respecting … space and personal safety.”
“There was some property damage and destruction that occurred, some that was quite significant,” he said. “I directed our folks to keep a level of restraint so we did not respond when that occurred. I did direct our officers to deploy gas once a secure fence was breached and those individuals — again, not all — some of those individuals were in our secured parking facility, which had access to our Minneapolis squad cars and weapons, quite frankly.”
On Wednesday afternoon, V.J. Smith, the president of the Minneapolis chapter of MAD DADS, an anti-violence program, spoke to a peaceful crowd gathered near Cup Foods about the need to protest without destroying surrounding businesses and homes. He said he was upset about the damage caused by protesters Tuesday night, including broken windows and spray paint on businesses and churches.
“You give violence, you get it back. You’re going to get it back,” he said. “We have to understand there is a certain way to protest.”
Staff writers Libor Jany, Liz Navratil and Paul Walsh contributed to this report.