Protests heat up across U.S., governors call in National Guard

Protesters kneel in the middle of the street to block traffic as they protest the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. Breonna Taylor, a black woman, was fatally shot by police in her home in March. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Atlanta • Governors in several states called in National Guard troops as protests over repeated police killings of black men grew Saturday from New York to Tulsa to Los Angeles, where police fired rubber bullets to scatter crowds and at least one police car burned.

The protests, which began in Minneapolis following Monday's death of George Floyd after a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes, have left parts of that city a grid of broken windows, burned-out buildings and ransacked stores. But the demonstrations have since become a national phenomenon, as protesters decry years of deaths at police hands.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, the site of a 1921 massacre of black people that left as many as 300 dead and the city’s thriving black district in ruins, protesters blocked intersections and chanted the name of Terence Crutcher, a black man killed by a police officer in 2016. Other peaceful protests were being held in California, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

In Tulsa and Wilmington, Delaware, protesters made their way onto nearby interstates and shut them down temporarily. In Tallahassee, Florida, a pickup truck drove through a crowd of protesters, sending some running and screaming as the vehicle stopped and started and at one point had a person on its hood, police said, but no serious injuries were reported.

[Read More: Rallies protest death of George Floyd in downtown SLC, Ogden]

In Columbia, South Carolina, a television reporter for WIS-TV was injured by rocks thrown Saturday amid protests outside the Columbia Police Department. Several hundred people participated in the demonstration, tearing down the American and state flags in front of the police department’s headquarters. They also swarmed a Columbia police car, breaking its windows, The State reported.

In Los Angeles protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” some within inches of the face shields of officers. Police used batons to move protesters back and shot rubber bullets to scatter the crowd. One man used a skateboard to attempt to break the windshield of a police SUV. A spray painted police car burned in the streets.

In Minneapolis, 29-year-old Sam Allkija, said at Saturday’s protest that the destruction that has accompanied protests is a sign of the frustration and rage the black community has felt for a long time.

“I don’t condone them,” he said. “But you have to look deeper into why these riots are happening.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz fully mobilized the state’s National Guard and promised a massive show of force to help quell unrest that has grown increasingly destructive.

“The situation in Minneapolis is no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd,” Walz said. “It is about attacking civil society, instilling fear and disrupting our great cities.”

After a tumultuous Friday night, racially diverse crowds took to the streets again for mostly peaceful protests in dozens of cities. The previous day's protests, too, had started calmly — in cities from New York to Oakland, California, from Atlanta to Portland, Oregon — before many descended into violence. The massive crowds involved, with many people not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, raised concerns among health experts about the potential for the spread of the coronavirus.

Hundreds of people were arrested Friday, and police used batons, rubber bullets and pepper spray to push back crowds in some cities. Many departments reported officers were injured, while social media was awash in images of police using forceful tactics, throwing protesters to the ground, using bicycles as shields, and trampling a protester while on horseback.

This week's unrest recalled the riots in Los Angeles nearly 30 years ago after the acquittal of the white police officers who beat Rodney King, a black motorist who had led them on a high-speed chase. The protests of Floyd's killing have gripped many more cities, but the losses in Minneapolis have yet to approach the staggering totals in Los Angeles. During the five days of rioting in 1992, more than 60 died, 2,000-plus were injured and thousands arrested, with property damage topping $1 billion.

Many protesters spoke of frustration that Floyd’s death was one more in a litany. It comes in the wake of the killing in Georgia of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot after being pursued by two white men while running in their neighborhood, and in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic that has thrown millions out of work, killed more than 100,000 people in the U.S. and disproportionately affected black people.

On Friday, the officer who held his knee to Floyd’s neck was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — but that appeared to provide little balm. Many protesters are demanding the arrests of the three other officers involved.

Comments from President Donald Trump stoked the anger, when he fired off a series of tweets criticizing Minnesota's response, ridiculing people who protested outside the White House and warning that if protesters breached the fence, “they would ... have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”

Leaders in many affected cities have voiced outrage over Floyd's killing and offered sympathy for those who were protesting — but as unrest intensified, many spoke of the desperate need to protect their cities and said they would call in reinforcements, despite concerns that could lead to more heavy handed tactics.

The unrest prompted responses across the globe. A top Vatican cardinal, Peter Turkson who is from Ghana, urged pastors in the United States to plead for calm, while U.S. national soccer player Weston McKennie wore an armband referencing Floyd’s death while playing for Schalke in Germany's Bundesliga.

Minnesota has steadily increased the number of National Guardsmen it says it needs to contain the unrest, and has now called up 1,700. The governor is also considering a potential offer of military police, which the Pentagon put on alert.

Governors in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Texas activated the National Guard after protests there turned violent overnight, while nighttime curfews were put in place in Portland, Oregon, and Cincinnati.

A person was killed in downtown Detroit just before midnight after someone fired shots into an SUV near the Greektown entertainment district, police said. Police had initially said someone fired into the crowd from an SUV. And police in St. Louis were investigating the death of a protester who had climbed between two trailers of a Fed Ex truck and was killed when it drove away.

Atlanta saw some of the most extreme unrest. While crews in that city worked to clean up glass and debris from rioting the night before, a large electronic billboard on Saturday morning still carried the message, “If you love Atlanta PLEASE GO HOME,” echoing the mayor’s pleas.

National Guard members blocked anyone from approaching heavily damaged buildings, including the College Football Hall of Fame and nearby restaurants.

Video posted to social media showed New York City officers using batons and shoving protesters down as they took people into custody and cleared streets. One video showed on officer slam a woman to the ground as he walked past her in the street.

Underscoring that Floyd's killing is part of a pattern, the names of black people killed by police, including Eric Garner, who died on Staten Island in 2014, were on signs and in chants.

“Our country has a sickness. We have to be out here,” said Brianna Petrisko, among those at lower Manhattan’s Foley Square, where most were wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. “This is the only way we’re going to be heard.”

Murphy reported from Oklahoma City.