Minnesota vise: Near-riot breaks out in protest over Minneapolis PD detainee death

Teargas, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets — not exactly the norm for a midweek night out on the town in Minneapolis. Last night, however, Minnesota Nice turned into a Minnesota vise as an angry crowd descended on the police department’s third precinct, where officers involved in the death of George Floyd worked until yesterday afternoon. News that the four responding officers had been fired didn’t do much to dispel the anger, and it got worse as the evening progressed.

WCCO had a live stand-up from later in the evening, when police were still occasionally responding with crowd-suppression tactics:

Both sides exchanged fire, so to speak, as the Star Tribune reports this morning. The protest started peacefully, but after the march to the precinct, the passions of the moment prevailed:

Community anger over the death of George Floyd boiled over Tuesday night in Minneapolis, as protesters and officers clashed, lobbing projectiles and tear gas. …

Tuesday evening, thousands of people, many of them wearing masks, marched peacefully from the site — outside Cup Foods on Chicago Avenue — to the Police Department’s Third Precinct, where tensions quickly escalated.

As rain began to fall, protesters shattered the glass front door of the station and defaced the building. Police squad vehicles were hit with spray paint.

Some protesters climbed on top of the building, while others threw rocks and water bottles at officers in riot gear. Police responded by firing chemical irritants and flash-bang devices, and sending groups scattering to a nearby Target and Arby’s, some getting milk to pour into their stinging eyes.

Protesters used Target shopping carts as barricades while the store temporarily closed. The protest waned shortly after 9 p.m. as the crowds dwindled.

That might have been the end of this protest, but it’s not going to be the end of the story. The Strib also did some digging on the officers involved, and it turns out that the man with the knee on Floyd’s neck has come under criticism for his use of lethal force in the past. As was his partner:

In 2008, [Officer Derek] Chauvin shot and wounded Ira Latrell Toles during a domestic assault call. According to a 2011 article from the Pioneer Press, Chauvin and other officers showed up to an apartment in south Minneapolis just before 2 a.m. Toles grabbed for an officer’s gun and Chauvin shot him in the abdomen.

In 2006, Chauvin and five others responded to a stabbing. After Wayne Reyes, 42, allegedly pulled a shotgun on the officers, one of the officers shot and killed Reyes, according to a report titled “Stolen Lives” from Communities United Against Police Brutality, a police watchdog nonprofit based in Minneapolis. …

In 2017, Lamar Ferguson sued Thao and another officer, Robert Thunder, for excessive use of force. According to the lawsuit, Ferguson and a woman who was eight months pregnant were walking home when Thao and Thunder stopped and searched them without cause. The officers handcuffed Ferguson, and Thao threw him to the ground and began punching him, while Thunder kicked him, according to the allegations.

The officers took Ferguson to the hospital for medical treatment. Afterward, they escorted Ferguson to jail wearing only his underwear and T-shirt, rejecting hospital staff’s requests that he be allowed to fully dress, according to the complaint.

The case against Thao ended in a $25,000 settlement, according to Ferguson’s lawyer. These may have all been properly handled incidents, but that kind of track record will have Floyd’s defenders seeing red. And given this city’s track record on arrests and use of lethal force — especially in the Philando Castile case but also Justine Damond’s shooting — the police’s credibility on internal reviews of complaints is just about nil at the moment.

For now, all people have to go on is the video of Floyd’s arrest and the track record of these two officers, which means we can expect ongoing protests. The next step will probably be getting autopsy reports to determine just how Floyd died. If it’s tied directly to the neck pressure applied by Chauvin — asphyxiation, compression, stroke — then the outrage will grow and so will political demands to hold the officers accountable. Thus far we already have three law-enforcement agencies probing the death: the FBI, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the Minneapolis PD itself along with the Hennepin County DA.

If charges get filed soon, that might mollify some of the anger, but don’t expect the protests to entirely disappear. There’s too much history here for people to simply forget about Floyd. And that video will still speak volumes, regardless of the autopsy, of a man who didn’t have to die while in police custody.