Protests around the US turned into riots on Saturday night as the nation reckoned with deadly police brutality and systemic racism, with cars burning, stores looted, and police and demonstrators using vehicles, rocks, rubber bullets, water bottles, firecrackers, fists, and shields against one another.
The scenes were at times surreal and shocking, a sign of the tension that has been building and building in the US for decades as economic and social inequality continues to grow. That the protests took place despite a global pandemic that has disproportionally impacted people of color in every way is emblematic of the anger over the police killings of unarmed black people and their demand for it to end.
The harrowing scenes unfolded right outside the White House, outside City Halls in Nashville and Philadelphia, on the streets of Brooklyn and Los Angeles and Atlanta, and especially in Minneapolis and Louisville, where the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both unarmed and at the hands of police, sparked the protests earlier in this week.
In more than a dozen cities across the country — including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Chicago — authorities ordered curfews for residents. There have been 1,400 arrests in 17 US cities since Thursday, the Associated Press reported. In Minneapolis and Los Angeles, scores of National Guard members were called in.
Friday's rallies saw mass arrests and the use of tear gas by police in major cities, and as day broke, black protesters calling for peaceful demonstration raised concerns that white demonstrators were instigating violence.
Demonstrators across the country on Saturday held signs bearing some of Floyd's final words before he died while being kneed in the neck in a chokehold by a white police officer. "Get your knee off my neck," read a sign in Brooklyn. "I can't breathe," read another in Minneapolis.
Others paid tribute to Floyd's memory. "Justice for George," read the sign of one protester draped in the American flag and marching through the streets of Anchorage, Alaska. Across the Pacific Ocean, the same words appeared on signs at a small demonstration on the island of Hawaii.
In Philadelphia, New York City, and Los Angeles, police vehicles were set ablaze and vandalized. In Columbus, Ohio, authorities pepper-sprayed surging crowds of demonstrators that included a US congresswoman. Outside the White House in the nation's capital, people jumped on the windshields of a cop car.
Amid it all, people decried the lack of leadership. As violence broke out across his city, Mayor Bill de Blasio was unheard from for hours.
And President Trump made remarks on Saturday in Florida, after stoking tensions with protesters throughout the week by calling them "thugs," threatening to shoot them and set "vicious dogs" on them. He added, "I stand before you in firm opposition to anyone exploiting this tragedy to loot, rob, attack, and menace."
Trump is the focus of ire for many of the protesters. "It’s not just police," one activist told a large crowd outside the Brooklyn Public Library. "We need to get that orange fucking clown out of that fucking office."
Later in the evening, as the nation burned, Trump issued a tweet attacking his political opponents in the very city where Floyd was killed.
It was the fifth day of protests in Minnesota, and another violent night.
As soon as the state-imposed curfew began at 8 p.m., law enforcement began a swift and tough clampdown on protesters.
The Minnesota State Patrol and National Guard used tear gas and rubber bullets to force protesters to flee the Fifth Precinct, where Floyd died and much of the protests have taken place.
Abby Dodd, 24, of St. Paul was leaving the area when she was hit with a rubber bullet. Dodd said she was walking back with her hands up when suddenly she felt the bullet hit her on the chest right below her throat.
“I didn’t see it coming, we had just been tear gassed,” Dodd told BuzzFeed News. “It was honestly kind of a blur. It knocked the wind out of me.”
Laura Shannon, 24, of Minneapolis was with a group of protestors in front of the Fifth Precinct when police started to fire tear gas at the group around 8:30 p.m.
“Everyone was sitting on 31st and Lake, with their hands up yelling ‘hands up, don’t shoot’,” she told BuzzFeed News.
At that point, people started running back away from the advancing line of police officers.
Shannon said a group of nurses who had set up an area to treat injuries in front of a K-Mart on Lake Street told her that police fired rubber bullets at them. The nurses fled with protestors, leaving behind thousands of dollars worth of equipment.
“They went after the medical tent where they have people who were already hurt and bleeding,” Shannon said.
Dodd was also frustrated by the response from law enforcement. “The most upsetting thing is everyone was so peaceful, not at all like the images you see on the news of people looting or acting violent,” she said.
In a video posted by Tanya Kerssen on Twitter, a National Guard tank and police in riot gear march down a quiet residential street in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis, yelling “get inside.”
An officer then yells “light ‘em up,” and police begin shooting rubber bullets — which have paint in them, supposedly to better identify troublemakers in a crowd — at people standing quietly on their porch.
“We are absolutely adhering to what we promised,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told KARE-TV at around 10pm. “We are not going to let people hijack our city.”
Police also attacked journalists with tear gas and rubber bullets.
LA Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske said in a video posted to Twitter that she was with a group of a dozen media in the 5th precinct when police hit them with tear gas.
“I had my notebook in my hand when the Minnesota State Patrol were advancing on protesters and us,” said Hennessy-Fiske. “We identified ourselves as press and they fired tear gas canisters on us at point blank range.”
The canister hit her in the leg. She said the group of media repeatedly asked police for guidance.
“They did not tell us where to go, they did not direct us, they just fired on us,” said Hennessy-Fiske.
NBC TV host Ali Velshi said he was hit by a rubber bullet, as state police and National Guard fired into a peaceful crowd.
Video by BuzzFeed News reporter Adolfo Flores in Minneapolis showed police firing what appeared to be tear gas at the crowd.
Earlier in the day there had been calm. On Saturday afternoon, clean up crews swept streets and picked up debris after Friday night’s protests. A choir sang in the Cup Foods parking lot where Floyd was killed.
“We will not accept George Floyd’s death,” said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, as local leaders called on people to stay inside Saturday night, “and we will not accept the destruction of our communities either.”
In Louisville, Kentucky, protesters gathered again on Saturday to demand justice for the death of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old black woman fatally shot in her home in March during a raid by police.
After gathering in the early evening, demonstrators began marching through the city’s downtown, darting through traffic and chanting, “No justice! No peace!”
They then blocked the 2nd Street Bridge to cars, declaring the bridge “closed for the night.”
Protesters shut down the I-35, with reports of police firing rubber bullets into the crowd and some arrests.
Demonstrators then marched to the Texas State Capitol where some vandalized the building.
Meanwhile in Dallas, a man with a machete appeared to be beaten by a group of protesters. Dallas Police said in a statement that the man "confronted protesters" with the weapon.
"The victim went to the 2200 block of N. Lamar Street (House of Blues) carrying a machete to allegedly protect his neighborhood from protesters," said the police. "The victim confronted protesters while holding the machete and was subsequently assaulted by the protesters. He was transported to an area hospital where he remains in stable condition. This remains an ongoing investigation."
Hundreds of protesters again marched to Trump Tower, which has been a focal point during demonstrations.
To control crowds as they moved towards the building, city officials even raised multiple bridges over the Chicago River. Kneeling outside Trump Tower, they then chanted the names of Floyd and Taylor.
New York City
In perhaps some of the most shocking footage to go viral on Saturday, police officers were filmed ramming protesters with two cars in Brooklyn.
The footage showed one NYPD SUV stopped by a barricade held by protesters. As bottles and bags of trash were thrown at the cars, the police accelerated forward into the crowd of dozens of protesters, several of whom were on bikes. At least five people could be seen knocked to the ground by the police cars, as people screamed. The extent of the injuries was not immediately clear.
"If those protesters had just gotten out of the way and not created an attempt to surround that vehicle, we would not be talking about this situation," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
Multiple protests kicked off at 3 p.m. on Saturday. One in uptown Manhattan saw protesters peacefully walking on major roads, including the West Side Highway.
Another in Brooklyn saw thousands walking the streets of Prospect Lefferts Garden and Flatbush, historically black neighborhoods,
A bus driver beeped her horn in support of protesters surrounding her bus, chanting “black lives matter.”
NYPD officers used pepper spray against protesters in Brooklyn, with protesters offering each other bottles of water to clean their eyes.
“It’s bigger than George Floyd,” said Drag, a man marching in Brooklyn who declined to give his last name. “It’s about how all African American men have to be scared of the police even if they’re unarmed.”
Video showed NYPD cars moving at high speed through the streets as some protesters threw metal barricades at them.
In Manhattan’s Union Square neighborhood, hundreds of people gathered Saturday. The rally began peacefully, with some demonstrators taking a knee.
Things escalated later in the evening as a large crowd remained on the streets and several police cars were set on fire.
Photos posted on Twitter showed multiple vehicles on fire. Reporters on the scene said there was smoke and ash in the air.
A spokesperson for the NYPD told BuzzFeed News officers made 120 arrests on Saturday night, and "multiple" police vehicles were burned and damaged during the protests.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a 9pm curfew for the city on Saturday, a move she called an "unusual and extreme step," after violent protests on Friday night.
Early Saturday evening, protests at various locations in downtown Atlanta were peaceful. As the curfew began, police and the Georgia National Guard at the Governor’s Mansion began tear gassing and arresting protesters.
“You couldn’t really know where to run because you’re trying to escape all the smoke and the fumes,” said Brittany Miller, a CBS46 reporter, who was tear gassed live on air. “It was horrible.”
About 3,000 peaceful protesters in Philadelphia began in the early afternoon at the iconic Art Museum, but as things moved to Center City, especially City Hall, people burned police vehicles, ransacked stores, and clashed with police.
"Into the evening, others converged on Center City and committed numerous acts of vandalism and violence," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said on Saturday evening. "Those acts were unlawful," she said.
In all, four police vehicles were set ablaze, including one from the state police. Six people were arrested, mostly for throwing “liquids and solvents” at police, and 13 officers were injured, she said. There were also injuries to civilians.
Police announced a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. “Only persons with essential duties will be permitted outdoors,” officials tweeted.
Outlaw said that police had begun making arrests for violating curfew.
Protesters were also seen breaking windows at City Hall and looting a nearby Starbucks.
In a nod to the city’s history of police brutality, protesters spray painted “PIGS” and “FTP” on a nearby statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo, and tried to set fire to it. Rizzo served as police commissioner in the early 1970s before being elected mayor and has been criticized for how he handled raids of the Black Panther party and a violent shootout with the black liberation group MOVE.
“The peaceful protests earlier were touching showings of our collective grief. The anger being displayed now cannot continue. Please have respect and dignity for each other and return home,” Mayor Jim Kenney tweeted.
Protesters and the Secret Service faced off the second time in two days outside the White House, after an initially peaceful protest from Capitol Hill.
Throughout the evening, police fired pepper balls and gas canisters at protesters, a minority of who threw firecrackers, water bottles, and bricks at police.
Protesters also clashed with police holding plexiglass shields. In one image a young woman can be seen moving into a line of police with her hands up.
Demonstrators also spray painted and climbed on top of Secret Service police cars, with some three to a vehicle.
In a poignant moment, protesters stopped for 9 minutes of silence to remember Floyd outside the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Hundreds of demonstrators boarded the I-695 on ramp while chanting, holding signs, and slowing traffic.
In Lafayette Park, protesters shouted “I can’t breathe!” as park police demanded they leave the area.
Some demonstrators outside the White House burned a flag; others threw bottles of water at police.
Later in the evening, as Trump returned to the White House from viewing the NASA launch in Florida, flying high over demonstrations in Marine One, protesters gave him the middle finger.
Later in the evening there was a dumpster on fire, not far from the White House.
In Ohio's capital, local representatives, including Rep. Joyce Beatty, a 70-year-old black woman who has served in Congress since 2013, and the City Council president were pepper sprayed during a rally on Saturday morning.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti asked the governor to send in the National Guard and announced that there would be a city-wide curfew in place after thousands of people protested on the streets for the fourth consecutive night.
“I’m asking all of Los Angeles to take a deep breath and to step back for a moment to allow our firefighters to put out the flames, to allow our peace officers to reestablish some order,” the mayor said. “And for us to let them protect your rights to be out there for as many days as we need to.”
In the Fairfax District near the Grove, a popular shopping and entertainment complex, protesters and police clashed, according to the LA Times. Police cars were set on fire and graffitied with "RIP George," as officers shot rubber bullets and struck demonstrators with batons.
Many protesters were heard chanting "defund police" and "prosecute killer cops," at the rally organized by Black Lives Matter.
“We’re living in the middle of an uprising,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors told the group, according to the LA Times. “Let’s be clear: We are in an uprising for black life.”
Police in Nashville deployed tear gas at protesters to protect the city’s courthouse after a fire was set inside the building.
Protesters marched through downtown Nashville before reaching the courthouse where they smashed windows, graffitied the walls, and set the fire. After deploying the tear gas, the police department announced a 10 p.m. curfew.
Before clashing with police, the demonstration began in the afternoon at a rally with several speakers, including the city’s mayor, John Cooper.
Salt Lake City
A man armed with a crossbow started shooting at protesters in Salt Lake City.
“You call yourself an American?” yelled out a protester who saw the man.
“Yes, I’m an American, all lives matter,” he said, while loading his crossbow.
Protesters quickly tackled the man to the ground after he fired his crossbow once at the crowd.
“He was yelling and me, and then aimed his bow at a black man standing behind me. The black man saw it coming, charged, and tackled him,” wrote @Gingersonfire, the Twitter account that posted the video.
Protesters set the man’s car on fire. A Salt Lake City Police spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they did not have information about the incident.
Salt Lake City protests began peacefully, but became more heated as the day went on. A police car was overturned and set on fire. Video also showed police knocking over an elderly protester with a cane, pushing him onto the ground.
The governor implemented an 8 p.m. curfew. “Most of us agree what happened in Minneapolis was despicable,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Saturday, adding, “What I have seen in the past few hours is that has gone from a peaceful protest to criminal behavior.”
Adolfo Flores reported from Minneapolis. Caroline Haskins, Amber Jamieson, Mary Ann Georgantopoulos, and David Mack reported from New York. Kadia Goba and Ellie Hall reported from Washington, DC.