Violence raged across the Twin Cities for a third night after the death of George Floyd, and it escalated significantly at its epicenter. Attackers set the Minneapolis PD’s 3rd Precinct ablaze, forcing the police to abandon the building. That caught the attention of Donald Trump earlier this morning, who issued what looks like an ultimatum to both Mayor Jacob Frey and the looters ransacking both cities. “When the looting starts,” Trump warned, “the shooting starts”:
Frey later dismissed this threat by saying that Trump “knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis,” but right now strength isn’t a word that comes to mind when watching the city burn. After police evacuated the 3rd Precinct building, firefighters tried to put the flames out, but couldn’t access the building. Then rioters turned their attention to another police precinct:
Some of the 500 National Guard troops deployed earlier in the day by Walz to assist police and the State Patrol — the first deployment for a civil disturbance in 34 years — went to the Third Precinct to try to make it safe for firefighters, but just after midnight, little firefighting was able to take place, with rioters remaining in the area, throwing projectiles and according to one witness, shooting bullets into the building.
The city of Minneapolis tweeted a warning to stay away from the area around Hiawatha Avenue and Lake Street: “We’re hearing unconfirmed reports that gas lines to the Third Precinct have been cut and other explosive materials are in the building. If you are near the building, for your safety, PLEASE RETREAT in the event the building explodes.
In the space of a few minutes late Thursday, priority 1 calls related to the unrest poured in to Minneapolis police: A gunshot victim walked into HCMC. Squads were dispatched to break up fights between looters and business owners near N. 42nd and Lyndale avenues.
About 2 a.m. Friday, police scanner traffic indicated that protesters were headed toward the Fourth Precinct headquarters, in north Minneapolis. Armed vehicles bearing Guard troops were also reportedly arriving in downtown Minneapolis.
Across the Mississippi River in St. Paul, looting, fire and vandals had damaged about 170 buildings by night’s end, police said.
The whole night was a game of whack-a-mole for outnumbered law-enforcement agencies in both cities:
The worst-struck parts of the Twin Cities had the feel of a cat-and-mouse game. When a police vehicle pulled up to a strip mall in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, where a large crowd had smashed windows of a Verizon store, a Noodles & Co. and a Vitamin Shoppe, the crowd immediately scattered, only to re-emerge elsewhere.
Police formed a barricade in front of a Target there. But no officers were at the T.J. Maxx store a block away, so looters smashed the door down and fled with shoes and clothing piled on shopping carts.
This is a bleak picture of impotence, no matter what Frey says about “strength.” WCCO’s Pat Kessler wondered overnight, “Why isn’t the city stepping in to stop this violence? … Why isn’t the state?” Kessler also notes the “very strong reaction from the president of the United States,” but doesn’t sound terribly opposed to a federal seizure after last night. Neither, for that matter, do the anchors:
“We have not heard from city leadership,” Kessler continues, “nor have we heard from Governor Walz about tamping down this violence.” No one’s seeing the National Guard on the streets yet, even though Walz has called them up. Why haven’t they established a firm presence yet? The police are clearly outmatched, and yet Kessler can’t get an answer from any level of government.
Can Trump assume federal control over National Guard troops and take over the Twin Cities? Yes, if he declares a domestic emergency in which civil rights are threatened, and this undoubtedly qualifies. Not only can Trump assume control of those troops, he can send in National Guard troops from around the country to bolster their numbers as well. Dwight Eisenhower did exactly that to force integration of public schools in the South at certain times, although that didn’t involve replacing or eclipsing all local authority. That’s a headache on a far grander scale, both logistically and politically.
The lack of leadership shown over the last three days at all levels within the state might not leave Trump with much choice. Frey might have dismissed Trump’s tweet, but he shouldn’t dismiss the warning within them. Another 24 hours of this incompetence and weakness might leave Trump with no other choice but to take command and use much harsher methods to regain control of the streets. At the very least, Trump would have the National Guard fully deployed, a decision that state and local authorities seem unwilling to make. And if the conversation on this CBS affiliate is any indication, a Trump takeover might not be unpopular by this point.
Update: I saw Trump’s tweet before the genius Karens of Twitter got to it, apparently. It’s still loading above, but if you click on it now, it’s at least screened off. Apparently, they think it glorifies violence:
Shooting looters on sight is actually the traditional, if hard-core, way to put an end to looting and ransacking of cities. Perhaps the Karens of Twitter were not yet born in 2005 when a Democratic governor in Louisiana issued an actual order to National Guard troops to shoot looters on sight during Hurricane Katrina. It’s harsh and probably not terribly wise or politically practical, but it’s an option. Maybe Twitter should spend less time on Donald Trump’s TL and more time on people who really do glorify violence:
For months I’ve called on @Jack & @Twitter to remove this Islamic radical from this platform. And nothing has been done. He denies his people the right to be on twitter while Jack allows him to spew homophobia, antisemitism, sexism and violence. https://t.co/JRb2OEBiA4
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) May 29, 2020