Tue, 20 Oct 2020

National Guard Called up in 12 States to Handle Protests

Voice of America
31 May 2020, 16:05 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - The governors of Minnesota and 11 other states have called up National Guard troops as they faced another night of violent protests sparked by the death of an African American man while in police custody.

For the past four nights, initially peaceful protesting has degenerated into looting, arson and other violence in Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul, as well as other cities across the United States.

"We are under assault," first-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said as he promised "full strength" would be used to restore order.

Governors in at least 11 other states -- Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah, Washington, California, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas -- also activated National Guard troops to help quell protests that in many areas have turned violent.

Nearly 1,400 people have been arrested across the country, according to an Associated Press tally Saturday. That toll is probably higher as the protests continued through the night.

U.S. President Donald Trump posted praise for the National Guard on Twitter late Saturday, but he also took a partisan shot at the mayor of Minneapolis.

"The National Guard has been released in Minneapolis to do the job that the Democrat Mayor couldn't do," the president wrote. "Should have been used 2 days ago & there would not have been damage & Police Headquarters would not have been taken over & ruined. Great job by the National Guard. No games!"

Mayors across the U.S. have instituted nighttime curfews after violence occurred in their cities, including Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Columbia, South Carolina; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Protests near the White House in Washington erupted into violence late Saturday. Details are still coming about a fire near or at Washington's historic Hay Adams hotel.

The demonstrators are protesting the death of George Floyd, who can be seen in a video lying on the ground with a white officer pressing his knee into his neck. Floyd, who is handcuffed with his hands behind his back on the video, can be heard pleading repeatedly, "I can't breathe." 

The cellphone images have sparked global outrage, with protests spreading across the country. While some protests have led to violence -- including arson and looting in Minneapolis and Portland -- others have remained peaceful, as in Wilmington, Delaware, and Greenville, South Carolina.

In the New Jersey cities of Camden and Newark, police marched peacefully alongside demonstrators.

President Donald Trump spoke about the unrest Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Space Center, where he watched the SpaceX launch.

"The death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, was a grave tragedy. It should never have happened. It has filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger and grief," he said.

"I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice and peace. And I stand before you in firm opposition to anyone exploiting this tragedy to loot, rob, attack, and menace. Healing not hatred, justice not chaos, are the mission at hand," he said.

But he added that Minneapolis cannot let chaos rule as it did early Friday when officers abandoned a police station and ignored protesters for several hours. Police eventually used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The president has blamed most of the violence on "Antifa and other radical left-wing groups," and offered Minnesota federal military assistance.

Walz said organized agitators from outside the state were responsible for some of the violence, including white supremacists, anarchists and people associated with drug cartels. 

"The sheer number of rioters has made it impossible to make coherent arrests," Walz said. He compared the organized protests to a "military operation" with protest leaders moving from location to location, creating new hot spots for police.

Numerous Minneapolis businesses suffered extensive property damage as protestors randomly looted stores in a Minneapolis neighborhood near the site where George Floyd died. Somali-American business owner Ahmed Siyad Shafi'i told VOA that vandals attacked all his of his stores overnight.

"They broke the glass, the doors, the windows," he said via Skype, "and take whatever they can take." Shafi'i, the owner of a restaurant and clothing store in South Minneapolis, called it "unacceptable" for anyone to destroy personal property and suggested peaceful protests.

The full mobilization of the Minnesota National Guard will increase its presence beyond the 700 soldiers already deployed. Major General Jon Jensen of the Minnesota National Guard said there will be more than 1,700 National Guard in the area by Sunday. 

The National Guard is a reserve military force with units in each of the 50 states, most of whose members serve part-time. The units can be activated in emergencies by the state governors to help deal with natural disasters or civil unrest.

Derek Chauvin, the officer seen restraining Floyd in the video, was fired on Tuesday from the Minneapolis Police Department. He was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Bail was set at $500,000.

Floyd's family responded to the charges, demanding a tougher approach. 

"We want a first-degree murder charge. And we want to see the other officers arrested. We call on authorities to revise the charges to reflect the true culpability of this officer," said a family spokesperson.

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the civil rights group NAACP, told VOA that the killing of Floyd shows that "we have in this country not dealt with the issues of race and the value of African American lives in Minneapolis." 

He said peaceful protests are "a way for the citizens of this country to bring forth grievances of injustice," and said the NAACP "absolutely oppose rioting; that never solves anything." 

The VOA Somali Service contributed to this report.

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