MINNEAPOLIS: President Donald Trump on Saturday warned that his government would stop violent protests over police brutality “cold,” blaming the extreme left as thousands began to appear on the streets of major US cities and threatened another night of unrest.
“We cannot and must not allow a small group of criminals and vandals to wreck our cities and lay waste to our communities,” Trump said following another night of widespread looting and arson in Minneapolis.
“My administration will stop mob violence. And we’ll stop it cold,” Trump said.
The US leader said the rioters were dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, the African American who died on Monday after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes and who has become a fresh symbol of police brutality against blacks.
“The violence and vandalism is being led by Antifa and other radical left-wing groups,” Trump said, referring to the loose-knit militant anti-fascist network.
Rioters to be ‘decimated’
His comments came as crowds began to gather again in Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia and other cities, with authorities preparing for another night of violent protests over what African American leaders called “systemic” mistreatment by law enforcement.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called up more national guard troops Saturday and warned they would “decimate” rioters after Friday night’s violence in the northern state overwhelmed law enforcement.
Protests against police brutality spread across America, leading to one of the country´s worst nights of civil unrest in years with police cars and other property set alight and destroyed in New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and other cities.
Protestors shouted and chanted for hours outside the White House in Washington on Friday, as Trump sat inside facing the most serious spate of civil unrest of his presidency, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cleaning the streets
Walz said he was mobilising the state’s entire 13,000-strong National Guard to deal with rioters who have looted shops and set fires in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
Thousands who defied the first night of curfew overwhelmed the police and troops who had been deployed.
People were congregating peacefully on Minneapolis streets Saturday afternoon, chanting Floyd’s name and carrying brooms to help clean up the scores of shops ransacked in the violence of the previous nights.
Some placed flowers in front of the shop where Floyd was arrested on Monday, before his death in the hands of police was recorded in a horrifying cellphone video since seen around the world.
“Our community has stepped up, there are more people cleaning the streets than looting,” said Nicole Crust, 41, owner of a beauty salon that was broken into.
Crust echoed officials who said the worst violence was from outsiders, but added a key theme of the protests: “Police brutality must stop.”
Walz warned that protestors staying out Saturday past the 8 pm (0100 GMT Sunday) curfew faced “a dangerous situation.”
“Our expectation is to have the curfew in place. Our expectation is to restore order,” Walz said.
Saying the rioters were possibly members of anarchist and white supremacist groups and drug gangs, often from outside the city, he said: “Our goal is to decimate that force as quickly as possible.”
African American and other Minneapolis community leaders pleaded for local residents to stay home Saturday night, as the curfew was expanded to multiple cities in the state.
“It makes no sense for us not to protect our community, our assets,” said Lul Osman, who heads a Somali women´s association.
‘I can’t breathe’
Protests were underway Saturday also in New York, Philadelphia and Miami, and more were expected in western US cities.
Many demonstrators bore signs with the words “I can’t breathe,” which Floyd repeatedly said to the police officers before he died.
In New York’s Harlem neighborhood, several hundred people gathered for speeches on racism at a midday rally. Later in the afternoon, the crowd grew to thousands and they began marching through the streets.
“We’re not turning the cheek anymore. Black lives matter. They will always matter. And we´re here today to show that,” said makeup artist Melissa Mock, who joined several thousand in a daytime protest in Miami.
Protests were expected to continue throughout the weekend even after the now-fired Minneapolis police officer accused of Floyd’s death was arrested and charged with third degree murder on Friday.
With a video showing the officer, Derek Chauvin, pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes until well after the man went motionless, while three other officers assisted, Floyd´s family and many protestors demanded more arrests and tougher murder charges.