The state of Minnesota arrested former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin Friday, just after a press conference held to announce state actions to secure areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul ravaged by riots and arson.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington returned to the room shortly after noon to announce that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension had made the arrest as part of their investigation into the death of George Floyd.
Floyd died Monday evening while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. Video of the incident in south Minneapolis shows Chauvin with his knee on the neck of Floyd, who was handcuffed at the time. The arrest occurred in Minneapolis at 11:44 a.m. Chauvin was charged by Hennepin County with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Harrington’s announcement was a dramatic coda to an already dramatic press conference during which Gov. Tim Walz said that he was now responsible for securing the two largest cities in the state — and that the National Guard would stay on duty to secure the neighborhoods hit with arson and looting.
Walz said his first task was to assure that “our buildings do not burn, our citizens are secure and that space we’re going to create allows us to get back to the conversation of serving justice.”
Walz imposed a curfew for Minneapolis and St. Paul beginning at 8 p.m. Friday until 6 a.m. Saturday and again from 8 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imposed a curfew with identical hours and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is expected to impose a similar curfew.
Walz asked for residents to help, but he also said he understood that talk of justice to a population that has seen promises repeatedly broken instills an attitude of “I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ll believe it when justice is carried out, I’ll believe it when equity actually means something, I’ll believe it when policies change, I’ll believe it when my child gets the same education as your child when color doesn’t matter.”
“This is not going to be an easy journey,” Walz said. “But the one thing we have to assure is that civil order is maintained so those changes we want to see (can happen). None of us want to live in a society where roving bands go unchecked and do what they want to do, to ruin property.”
The conundrum for Walz is that the institutions needed to restore order are some of the same entities that created the problems in the first place.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, who along with Harrington recently chaired a task force looking at police use of force, asked residents of the two cities to view national guardsmen differently than they view police, especially in Minneapolis.
“The national guard just a week ago was administering COVID-19 tests to help people,” Ellison said. “The presence you see on the street: don’t react to them the way you might react to the Minneapolis police department. It’s not the same group. They have different leadership, different authority. Their job is to try to bring peace and calm back again.”
Ellison said he believes that politicians, business leaders, the philanthropic community and community leaders agree that real change to racial justice and inequity will happen.
“We’re not just gonna fix the windows and sweep up the glass,” he said. “We’re going to fix a broken and shattered society that leaves so many people behind based on their historical legacy of being in servitude, in second class citizenship and now fraught with disparities from incarceration to housing to wage to everything else.”
Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, adjutant general of the national guard, said his soldiers will be armed, something he asked for after receiving what he called a credible threat to them via the FBI. They do not, however, have arrest authority and will be accompanied by officers who do.
Also included in the state response are state troopers and officers from the state Department of Natural Resources. Jensen said his missions Wednesday were fourfold: secure the state Capitol building; secure Ramsey County and St. Paul police facilities so that officers there could respond to incidents elsewhere; to protect Minneapolis firefighters, who were facing attacks while fighting fires set by arsons; and to secure the areas in Minneapolis where arson and looting were widespread.
Jensen called it a “clear and secure” mission.
“We will continue to operate in Minneapolis until the governor relieves us,” he said.
Harrington said state troopers were called in to help with that mission.
“We were not deployed and we will not be deployed to stifle free speech,” Harrington said. “But we will not and cannot allow unlawful and dangerous behavior to continue.
“The task the governor gave us was pretty simple. It was to pull together a team that could go in, keep the peace, protect people, protect their safety, protect their lives, protect their liberty. And to protect property that was being burned up literally every minute that we delayed.”
Harrington said the vast majority of residents are “still having their guts ripped out over the Floyd murder. I will call it murder because that’s what it looked like to me. I don’t want to prejudice this from a criminal perspective but I’m just calling it what I see at this point.”
But those who were up overnight were not protestors in mourning, he said, and troopers and guardsmen gave orders to disperse and arrested a handful of people who did not.
“No one could have heard Mr. Floyd’s voice in the chaos and the screaming and shouting and the fires at 1 o’clock in the morning on Lake Street,” Harrington said. “My job is to make sure that tonight the community is safe and our team is ready and prepared to keep it safe.”
Walz said he did not support the decision to abandon the Third Precinct but said he was not in charge when it was done.
Walz said some have said the presence of the guard is an oppressive symbol that could further inflame the situation. But he said some of the same people were asking him early this morning where the national guard was.
He said he is intent on separating aggrieved citizens who need to express that from those who would set fires and loot stores.
“I’ll tell you what. The furthest thing from people’s minds as they’re burning down a family-owned store at 3 a.m. on Lake Street was George Floyd,” he said. “And that’s what we’ve got to get at.”
Walz tried to separate the behavior of looters with those who have been demonstrating against the police and, at the time, the lack of arrest of Chauvin or the other three officers who were present but did not intervene. They were fired but were not arrested, Harrington said.
“We have to restore order to our society before we can start addressing the issues,” Walz said. “Before we get to turn back to where we should be spending our energy, making sure that justice is served, justice is served swiftly and that we learn something from George Floyd gave on Monday.
Walz also apologized for the arrest of a CNN news crew in the early morning Wednesday during a sweep of the area around the Third Precinct. The crew filmed the encounter which showed them offering to cooperate and stand where state troopers wanted them do. They were released after Walz intervened and he said he would protect the rights to report by the media.
“It’s not because it’s a nice thing to do, it’s because it’s a key component of how we fix this,” Walz said. Residents who see reporters being cleared from an area might assume that the authorities are about to do something they don’t want to be reported, he said.
Friday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka was critical of the governor’s leadership in the crisis. The East Gull Lake Republican said Walz should have stepped in sooner and that a curfew should have been called Thursday night.
“Above all else, this is a failure in leadership,” Gazelka said. “And that leadership rests on Gov. Walz’s shoulders. The governor can’t blame the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul. They can take some responsibility but it ultimately comes down to him.”
Gazelka called the death of Floyd a “senseless lifetaking” and supported the arrest of Chauvin Friday. But he said Walz should have seen the chaos coming and acted more promptly with his authority which include command of the National Guard.
The national guard should have been called in right away,” Gazelka said. “And it shouldn’t have been a couple hundred, it should have been a couple thousand members of the guard. I’m hoping the governor calls a curfew. A curfew should have been called yesterday.
“It was obvious that the Minneapolis mayor was in over his head and that’s where the governor needed to respond,” Gazelka said.