By Shereen Siewert
For the third straight night, chaos erupted throughout the Minneapolis area in the wake of an officer-involved death, one that is prompting sharp criticism from law enforcement officials in Wausau and around the country.
As of 10:30 p.m., the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third precinct building was on fire, surrounded by hundreds of protesters, some shooting fireworks and throwing projectiles at the building. Police, pelted by rocks, have responded with tear gas
Throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, the streets were filled with demonstrators and looters fueled by anger over the death of George Floyd, who died this week while in police custody.
A viral video shows Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on a handcuffed and unarmed Floyd for more than seven minutes, while Floyd begged for help and bystanders begged Chauvin to stop. Floyd died a short time afterward. Chauvin has since been fired, as have three other officers at the scene.
No charges have been filed in the case, which remains under investigation by the FBI and BCI. KARE reports that Chauvin has a history of complaints filed against him and was involved in at least two police shootings. But he was also awarded a medal of valor in 2009. Police have also confirmed that Chauvin and Floyd worked security at the same nightclub, though it is unclear whether they knew one another.
Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven offered a lengthy statement Thursday regarding Floyd’s death saying that ultimately, he doesn’t understand the behavior he saw the night of Floyd’s death.
“I have seen a lot of law enforcement use of force videos in my career,” Bliven wrote, in a Facebook post. “I generally wait until all the information comes out from an investigation as that is typically the prudent course of action as I mentioned after an Officer Involved Shooting here in January. But as a human being, and as a police officer, I just do not understand what I saw in this video.”
“I do not understand why a handcuffed man who appears to be clearly under control by several officers would require an officer kneeling on the back of his neck,” Bliven said.
“I do not understand why an officer would kneel on the back of a man’s neck for so long. I do not understand why there would be so little communication between the police and a man who is being restrained in that fashion. I do not understand what appears to be a lack of concern for human life,” he said.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Thursday activating the Minnesota National Guard to help quell the protests, which are becoming increasingly violent. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey declared a state of emergency, in effect until Sunday.
Dozens of stores have been looted or burned, and there have been many reports of shootings and other injuries. The Minneapolis Fire Department reports crews have responded to more than 30 “fire events” on Thursday related to the riots.
KSTP reports more than 500 National Guard troops have been called up. This is the first time the National Guard has been activated for a civil disturbance in Minnesota since 2008 ,when Gov. Tim Pawlenty deployed 300 troops to control riots outside the Republican National Convention.
The Twin Cities, roughly 185 miles west of Wausau, is no stranger to conflict between police and citizens. The protests this week are an echo to November 2015, the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting in north Minneapolis. Then, police fatally shot 24-year-old Jamar Clark, who police said resisted arrest and tried to grab an officer’s gun. Witnesses said Clark was handcuffed and on the ground when he was shot.
Two weeks of protests followed outside Minneapolis’ Fourth Police Precinct. No charges were filed.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey this week said he understands the anger protesters are feeling.
“Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” Frey asked Wednesday in a Tweet, calling on prosecutors to make a swift charging recommendation against Chauvin. “If you had done it or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.”
In Wausau, Police Chief Bliven said he trusts the investigation will be impartial and complete, but adds, “We will be watching closely.”