For two days, state and local officials blamed "outside agitators" for the spasm of violence and property damage that erupted when a black man, George Floyd, died after being restrained by a white Minneapolis police officer.
But organizers of Sunday's march on Interstate 35W say the focus on property damage and the alleged involvement of extremist groups is misplaced and is only shifting attention from the tragedy that has inspired thousands to gather peacefully every day for the past week.
"The problem is not some broken windows and some burned buildings, though we do recognize the pain our communities are in," Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said Sunday during a protest at the Capitol. "What is the problem is the fact that cops can kill with impunity."
Gov. Tim Walz continued to suggest Sunday that "it can't be Minnesotans" who would loot and burn homegrown businesses.
Residents took to social media to say they, too, had seen evidence of the involvement of outsiders such as white supremacist groups. President Donald Trump chimed in, alleging in tweets Saturday that the violence was "being led by Antifa and other radical groups." Antifa, short for anti-fascists, is an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
But the evidence of outside involvement is thin.
In St. Paul, police received numerous reports of suspicious vehicles without license plates parked and driving around the city, according to department spokesman Steve Linders. Officers also spotted some of those vehicles.
They investigated an abandoned pickup truck loaded with construction equipment. Callers reported that people had gone to and from the truck, taking items from it.
"Our officers were also encountering vehicles with no plates driving in our city," Linders said. "When officers attempted to stop the vehicles, they fled. We did not pursue them. Safety is a big concern in these situations."
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said Sunday that authorities also spotted cars without license plates, their lights off and windows blacked out. When stopped, some of the occupants fled. Others were arrested.
Some cars, including some stolen in Minnesota, were filled with rocks and weapons, Harrington said. Authorities also discovered caches of incendiaries near the sites of fires that may have been transported in some of the stolen vehicles, he said.
"A this point, I don't have any credible evidence of any specific group being here in Minnesota," he said.
Harrington noted that authorities arrested at least 100 people late Saturday and early Sunday, far more than the previous two nights. "We used the curfew effectively," he said.
But data from Hennepin County showed more Minnesotans were arrested in protest areas of Minneapolis than people from out of state.
Of those booked, 47 were from Minnesota and 10 listed addresses from out of state, according to data for jail bookings likely associated with the protests. And of the Minnesotans arrested, 21 were from Minneapolis and St. Paul while 26 came from outside the two cities.
The arrests after curfew included five Minnesotans who were booked on weapons charges along with two others — one from Nebraska and another from Illinois.
The Hennepin County jail bookings also showed that 13 Minnesotans and two people from out of state were arrested before Saturday's curfew when a massive law enforcement force, which was beefed up by thousands of National Guard soldiers, swept across the city to push curfew violators off the street and stymie violence.
It appears more Minnesotans than out-of-area protesters also were arrested on Friday — a night of mayhem when businesses, cars and dumpsters were set on fire. Of those booked in Hennepin County after the 8 p.m. curfew, 17 were Minnesotans and two appeared to have come from outside the state. Earlier in the day, 12 Minnesotans were arrested compared with five with out-of-state addresses.
Saturday arrest data was not available from Ramsey County on Sunday.
Asked Sunday about the role of outsiders in the havoc, Walz emphasized the highly organized nature of the groups involved in the destruction, including what he called a cyber "denial of service" attack on state computer systems. "That's not somebody sitting in their basement," he said.
He said more data is needed to determine the extent of outside forces, but Walz acknowledged that Minnesota is responsible for setting off protests here and across the country
"The catalyst that started all of this was the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota," Walz said. "And that was our problem."
Derek Chauvin, the now former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd's neck as he begged for air on Memorial Day, has been charged with third-degree murder. But the move didn't quell protests. Instead, they grew throughout the week and turned more violent with protesters demanding the other three officers involved in the incident be arrested. All four officers were fired from the department.
"If those four cops had been arrested, as any members of the community caught on film murdering someone would have been, none of what has happened over the last four or five days would have happened," Gross said. "The fact that police officers get a free pass over and over and over and over again is what has driven us to this point.
Staff writer Patrick Condon and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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