Fiery nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd entered their sixth day on Sunday, with initially peaceful gatherings giving way to a terrifying confrontation between activists and a rogue truck driver in Minneapolis, a fire on the edge of the White House grounds in Washington, and spectacular scenes of looting in Manhattan.
A tanker truck barreled into a crowd on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, the city where Floyd cried “I can’t breathe” as he was held down by the neck just prior to his death in police custody.
Laura Eltawely told The Daily Beast she and her husband, Ahmad, along with their four small children, were trying to exit the bridge when police drove up an entrance ramp and inexplicably fired tear gas into the crowd fleeing the truck.
“They were openly gassing people that they knew were running away from the incident they were responding to,” Eltawely said Sunday.
The couple and their kids, aged 1 month to 10 years old, took shelter in an apartment building.
“This was a daytime peaceful demonstration,” Eltawely added. “We had no idea there would be clashes with police.”
The truck driver, who was arrested, was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
In New York City, despite clashes in lower Manhattan, police seemed to abandon much of the island to looters, who ransacked some of the most valuable retail real estate on the planet.
Best Buy. North Face. Coach. Kate Spade. Apple.
After 10 p.m., rioters in Union Square ignited boxes outside the Strand bookstore. They were captured on video smashing the windows of a Walgreens pharmacy and looting a GameStop store.
At one point in Midtown Manhattan around 11 p.m., a protester dished out iPads to an assembled horde. Minutes earlier, an activist could be he heard intoning, “You’re going the wrong way! Marshalls is that way!”
In Los Angeles, an alleged hit-and-run in Pershing Square downtown was captured on video shared by Twitter users on Sunday afternoon. Demonstrators chased the police vehicle after it hit a man, whose injuries were unclear, and spun around. As hundreds gathered for peaceful protests, others looted businesses in Santa Monica, including the city’s Third Street Promenade. One activist tried to stop looters from breaking into an REI store on Santa Monica Boulevard. Firefighters extinguished cars and buildings in flames in the city, and police eventually showed up to arrest alleged thieves.
Cops in downtown Seattle hurled tear gas and flash-bangs into a crowd of protesters, who ran from the smoke. People raised their arms and shouted, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” National Guard trucks, with soldiers in camouflage, rolled through the streets where volunteers cleaned wreckage that morning. A resident could be overheard intoning, “I must say, the cops seem to be showing some restraint today!”
In Austin, where protests earlier in the day had been peaceful after a violent Saturday night, things turned ugly again as the night wore on, with police reportedly firing beanbag rounds and tear gas from an overpass at the crowd.
In Washington, D.C., things were calm two hours before the first night of an 11 p.m. curfew. Crowds gathered at metal barricades erected at the entrance to Lafayette Park, which surrounds the White House, and Rondell Jordan, a 30-year-old lawyer, said he planned to leave “before the shit hits the fan.”
“And it should,” he added.
But just before 11 p.m., rioters packed the streets and set St. John’s Episcopal Church on fire. The historic church, built in 1815, is one block from the White House.
They also torched at least one vehicle, a small building that holds restrooms on the perimeter of the White House grounds, and dragged a massive tree branch into the street as kindling for a bonfire. The AFL-CIO building was broken into and vandalized with graffiti, including “Fuck the Police” and “Fuck 12.”
Soon after, a fire was set inside the lobby. One block away, police guarded the St. Regis luxury hotel.
In Chicago, there was plenty of looting in broad daylight. A drive from The Loop to the city’s Deep South Side saw nearly every block feature at least one battered business. One beat cop bemoaned to The Daily Beast, “These aren’t protesters, they are opportunists. They are just destroying and looting because it’s the cool thing to do.”
Likewise, in Philadelphia, crowds of people destroyed police vehicles and ransacked stores throughout the city.
Some residents told The Daily Beast the plundering of businesses did little in furthering justice for Floyd. “So, everybody’s saying that this is all for George, and it’s really not,” said Jessica Conyers, 29. “Y’all basically doing for y’all selves. Stealing is not justice.”
“Some of the people don’t even live in the neighborhood,” Calvin Walker, 58, chimed in. “They doing it ’cause they doing it. It’s not about the protests.”
It was around this time that Evie Achuff, 25 and Michael Achuff, 29, decided to walk their dog near the intersection of Lehigh and Kensington Aves. Mr. Achuff said the streets were nearly empty as they turned the corner onto Kensington Ave. and were confronted by a “military-style” onslaught of a dozen or more police cruisers.
Achuff, who said he was not engaged in any illegal activity, began verbally condemning the massive police presence in words even he admits were antagonistic. While his wife urged him to tone it down, an officer exited his vehicle and began assaulting him with a metal baton, he told The Daily Beast. As Mr. Achuff was being beaten, he heard his wife screaming. She too was being assaulted, he said.
“The cop said to me, ‘Hear that? We’re beating up your girl,'” Achuff told The Daily Beast.
The pair were finally able to break free and made it back to the Fishtown home for an interview later that day.
“I wanna call attention to this to show what militarized police do when they think no one else is looking,” Achuff said. (Philadelphia Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Meanwhile, enraged white residents of working-class neighborhoods in South Philadelphia were out in force on Sunday night as the sun went down announcing a mandatory 6 p.m. curfew. Dozens of people lined Front Street near Snyder Avenue, a traditionally Irish and Italian neighborhood.
The thoroughfare, which abuts a shopping center, is the heart of an insular community that includes the famous “2 St.”—home to most of the Mummer clubs that march each year in Philadelphia's New Year’s day parade. The clubs have been the source of controversy in past years as participants have a shirked a ban on blackface.
Residents seemed to have counter-protest on their minds.
“We’re just making sure everything’s OK,” said one woman, who would not provide her name.
“We’re going down there locked and loaded.” clarified a man looming near Broad Street.
Looters at a Foot Locker store on Chestnut Street in West Philly were met with police forces, and rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas were fired into the crowd.
“We were standing across the street from Foot Locker and we noticed a crowd of people running out and a crowd of cops running toward them. And then we see a cop jump in front of a motorcycle to stop this man and they start hitting him right away. I say, ‘Hey, I got you on camera,’” said one witness, Cordarrol Washington.
“And that’s when he got violent. She got shot,” Washington continued, pointing to a woman being treated by paramedics, “and I got shot multiple times.”
Locals told a Daily Beast reporter they were outraged by the devastation. Some even begged for the looting to stop, as volunteer medics poured water into people’s faces and offered masks and hand sanitizer. At least one business owner, Won S. Hwang, drove to the scene to protect his store. Hwang, a discount hair supplier, said he’s owned his shop for 30 years and has “never seen it like this.”
Cheryel-Lynn Sumpter, a 28-year resident and homeowner, told The Daily Beast: “I am not mad with the police today. I’m mad at people running around and stealing. Because y’all wanna come out here and steal. This has nothing to do with George Floyd. Now we can’t even walk outside because people came down here with bags and stuff. Why am I getting tear gassed in my own alley?”
Rick Bell, a 45-year-old teacher, said he “can’t count how many times” he’s been harassed by police and underscored the importance of the protests against police brutality. “People are tired. This cannot continue to go on,” Bell said.
“I agree looting is not the thing we should be doing,” Bell added. He suggested people go on social media to “see who’s really looting.”
“It’s not just young black kids. It’s everyone across the board,” he said.
In Minneapolis, a crowd of thousands gathered earlier Sunday near the Cup Foods store, just outside of which Floyd was killed. Speakers took turns invoking Floyd’s name, and making clear why protesters and members of the community remain unsatisfied with the lone arrest of Chauvin. “When we say ‘no justice, no peace,’ we mean no justice, no peace,” said one speaker who was born in Floyd’s native Houston.
This gathering was peaceful and without any police officers, who spent Saturday night firing on protesters and chasing them all over the city in sporadic and chaotic clashes that went deep into the night.
Nancy Alayon, owner of Quetal, a Salvadoran food truck, planned to hand out 1,500 free meals thanks to $4,000 raised by loyal customers.
“We’re all feeling this collective grief,” she said.
Hours later, after a local curfew, a crowd approaching 1,000 ended their day of demonstrations in the same spot. Kendrick Benson, a 28-year-old native of Minneapolis’ north side, stood on a parking meter pay station and addressed the crowd.
“This is a sacred safe space here tonight,” Benson said. “You have a right to grieve. You have a right to mourn. No one can take that away from you.”
Benson, who was in the city visiting from his home in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said he stayed in town when “this war started.”
—With reporting by Spencer Ackerman and Danny Gold in New York City, Jonathan Ballew in Chicago, and Sam Brodey in Washington, D.C.