Protests Across The U.S. Escalate Amid Calls For Police Accountability
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Across the country today, some attended peaceful vigils, marches and demonstrations while others spent the day sweeping up broken glass, trash and other debris from protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody. Protests in several cities turned violent last night. Cars and buildings were burned, shops and stores looted, and some clashed with police.
(SOUNDBITE OF TEAR GAS BEING FIRED, POLICE SIRENS)
MARTIN: In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed last Monday, police and the National Guard fired tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of protesters last night. That's where NPR's David Schaper is, and he is with us now.
David Schaper, it's good to hear from you. Thanks for joining us.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, thanks for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: First of all, could you just give us a recap of what happened last night in Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country?
SCHAPER: Well, yeah. There were huge demonstrations, thousands of protesters at just about every major city, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., many people coming out to express outrage after another police killing of a person of color. And it spread to many smaller cities, too, like Kansas City, Lincoln, Neb., Fargo, N.D. and Ferguson, Mo., which has had its own recent history of police violence.
In many cities, the National Guard was called out to - many of the protests were met with a really fierce law enforcement response and an incredible show of force. Here in Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz called Saturday a day filled with tension like - unlike any other in Minnesota. And he credited community residents with helping calm those tensions and getting family members and friends and neighbors off the streets while the city and state police, along with more than 4,000 National Guard troops, conducted what he called the most complex public safety operation in state history.
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TIM WALZ: They did so in a professional manner. They did so without a single loss of life and minimal property damage.
MARTIN: Well, Governor Walz says the police operated in a professional manner. But after some violent confrontations, aren't some of their tactics and that show of force being questioned now?
SCHAPER: Yeah. Actually, they are. Police and the National Guard began to crack down on some protesters right - almost right after the 8 o'clock local time curfew that was set - the time that Walz had set for curfew in the Twin Cities. And they fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the demonstrators, using - firing projectiles like rubber bullets. They even fired upon and detained journalists, even though we weren't supposed to be - we were supposed to be exempt from the curfew.
Walz did apologize for that. But there was also another incident in which police officers wearing riot gear rolled down a residential street, stopped, and one officer yelled for residents who were standing on their porch to go inside. And then when they didn't, he said, light them up, and other officers fired projectiles at them. The state's public safety commissioner, John Harrington, said these incidents are under review. But he defended his officers, saying they did what they had to do.
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JOHN HARRINGTON: These aren't particularly pretty actions that we take. And I can assure you, of all the things a state patrol would've rather been doing this week and last night, it was anything but what we had to do. But it was necessary.
MARTIN: Nevertheless, David, many protesters do continue to turn out, and they do continue to stay out after the curfews to demonstrate. And I understand that you did have a chance to talk to some folks. And what did they tell you about why they're doing that?
SCHAPER: Yeah. I talked to two young men who were participating in one of the peaceful protests, 21-year-old Ahmed Mohammed (ph), 24-year-old Hakim Ali (ph). And I asked them why, after protesting throughout the day, they didn't just go home at curfew time.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Go home - why would I go home? They're killing us.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We can't give up now. That's the reason. We can't give up now.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Why give up now...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We give up now, then they won the fight. If they win the fight, we've got to win the war.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Our message is not heard yet.
SCHAPER: You know, they say they're especially upset with the lack of change in police departments not just here but elsewhere because there have been promises of police reforms, the department changing policies and training. But racial biasing continues.
MARTIN: That is NPR's David Schaper.
David, thank you.
SCHAPER: My pleasure.
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