Peaceful Minnesota protests quickly turned into riots on Saturday, July 9. Twenty one police officers were significantly injured by debris thrown at them—debris including rocks, rebar, and explosive devices, including Molotov cocktails. More than 100 arrests were made. The riots were called an “extreme incident” by St. Paul, Minnesota mayor Chris Coleman, who spoke at a press conference on Sunday.
The ongoing St. Paul protests have been in response to the death of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man shot by police during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb. Mr. Castile’s death occurred Wednesday night, July 6, at 9 p.m., in the small city of Falcon Heights, just northwest of St. Paul. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live streamed the incident on Facebook. According to Reynolds’ account, Castile had informed the officer that he was carrying a gun, and per the officer’s request, was reaching for his driver’s license when the officer opened fire.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner issued a statement that Castile died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds at 9:37 p.m. in a hospital emergency room, about 20 minutes after he was shot.
On Saturday, after nearly 200 protesters blocked Interstate 94 and refused to clear the roadway, police in riot gear began to move into the crowd just after midnight Saturday evening, and used smoke bombs to disperse the crowd. Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matt Langer said troopers tried to keep protesters from going onto the freeway in the first place to protect the crowds, but they were unsuccessful. Langer continued by saying that previous days’ protests were peaceful and that the marchers listened to police, but explained that Saturday night’s protesters were very different—ignoring police and turning violent, pelting officers with glass bottles, rocks and other debris. It took more than 100 state troopers working in conjunction with St. Paul police officers to control the crowd, which finally happened about an hour and a half later, at 1:30 a.m.
Police Chief Todd Axtell also commented on the situation by saying, “We hope for the best and prepare for the worst and, unfortunately, last night the worst occurred” Axtell said he was “disgusted” by the acts of some people and added, “we’re not going to tolerate it. It’s the first time in my 28 years as a police officer that I have observed this level of violence toward our public servants.”
Two participants in the crowd also commented on the situation. Misty Macon, 20, said the protest was peaceful for the most part, and she did see police officers remove 30 people without incident. Macon said that the police warned protesters they would be subject to arrest if they didn’t disassemble. Another participant, Mike Martin, said he was pepper-sprayed by a policeman during the protest. Martin said he was trying to move the crowd along and keep the peace. “I guess I wasn’t moving fast enough for him,” said Martin. “He just got it out and bam, I saw a cloud. It burned pretty bad”.
Dayton’s office declined to comment further on the conversation.