MINNEAPOLIS — A police precinct was burning in Minneapolis as protests over the death of George Floyd raged on for a third straight day.
Protesters late Thursday focused their attention on the police department's 3rd Precinct, the base of four officers who were fired after Floyd's death in their custody Monday.
A fire spread to the interior of the station, which police had evacuated. They cleared the building shortly after 10 p.m., when demonstrators forcibly entered and "ignited several fires," department spokesman John Elder said.
Mayor Jacob Frey said in an early morning news conference Friday that he made the decision to pull police out of the precinct. "You know brick and mortar is not as important as life," he said.
He called the vandalism and arson "unacceptable," but he vowed that officers would continue to patrol the community served by the 3rd Precinct. "We will continue to do our jobs in that area," Frey said.
Fires also burned on both sides of the police station as demonstrators pushed down temporary fencing and occupied property at the precinct. Officers fired tear gas from the ground and a rooftop.
The city of Minneapolis on Twitter urged people to "retreat" from the area as a precaution. "We're hearing unconfirmed reports that gas lines to the Third Precinct have been cut and other explosive materials are in the building."
Police said late Thursday that no serious injuries had been reported.
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Multiple blazes also burned on nearby blocks.
After midnight some demonstrators descended on the Minneapolis Police Department's 4th Precinct northwest of downtown, where officers stood guard outside.
The Minnesota National Guard said on Twitter that 500 soldiers had been activated for duty in the Twin Cities. "Our mission is to protect life, preserve property and the right to peacefully demonstrate," it said.
Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Thursday activating the National Guard. A statement from the governor's office said the order was needed after "extensive damage to private property occurred and peaceful protests evolved into a dangerous situation for protesters and first responders."
Businesses across the Twin Cities boarded up their windows and doors Thursday to prevent looting.
Looters on Thursday broke into a Target on University Avenue in St. Paul before police arrived, sending the raiders scrambling.
But as police circled the store and faced off with an angry crowd, looters broke into a T.J. Maxx close by and made off with whatever they could carry. That store was later reported to be on fire.
"Officers continue to be hit with rocks and bottles thrown by people who are also breaking into buildings, looting and destroying property," St. Paul police said on Twitter.
Target, headquartered in Minneapolis, later said it was temporarily closing 24 stores in Minnesota.
An unoccupied St. Paul police cruiser in the area also appeared to have been vandalized.
"Please stay home. Please do not come here to protest," St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said in a statement late Thursday afternoon.
"Please keep the focus on George Floyd, on advancing our movement, and on preventing this from ever happening again. We can all be in that fight together."
President Donald Trump late Thursday weighed in, blaming local leadership for the unrest and threatening to deploy National Guard troops that were already in position in the Twin Cities.
"I can't stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis," the president said on Twitter.
He called unruly demonstrators "thugs" and threatened that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."
Frey responded early Friday, saying, "Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis. Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis."
St. Paul police said that about 170 businesses had been damaged by vandalism, looting or fires.
In South Minneapolis, protesters gathered near the police department's 3rd Precinct. Rocks were thrown at officers, who deployed tear gas as they moved through a crowd to get to a stabbing victim, said a witness, City Council candidate A.J. Awed.
Police were later seen using a cart to roll a few civilians out of the area.
Metro Transit, which operates light rail and buses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, shut down almost all services through Sunday. An airport shuttle and its Northstar commuter line were all that remained operational.
"Out of concern for the safety of riders and employees, Metro Transit bus and light rail service will be suspended," the transit agency announced at about 2:30 p.m.
Rosedale Center, a mall in nearby Roseville, said in Twitter it was asked by authorities to shut down.
In announcing store closures, Target said in a statement, "We are heartbroken by the death of George Floyd and the pain it is causing our community. At this time, we have made the decision to close a number of our stores until further notice."
Demonstrations also took place across the nation.
In New York City, at least 40 people were arrested as protesters took to the streets near Union Square and in Lower Manhattan, police said.
One officer was hit by a garbage can hurled at him, and another was punched in the face, according to the New York Police Department. Suspects in those incidents were among those arrested, the department said.
In Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was killed by police during a raid at her home, officers with batons and riot gear patrolled as a crowd chanted in protests. One officer was seen firing what appeared to be a paintball gun, and people in the crowd behaved as though there was an irritant in the air, video showed.
Seven people were shot during that rally, but the circumstances surrounding the violence were not yet known.
In Los Angeles, demonstrators gathered outside police headquarters downtown, a peaceful contrast to Wednesday's event, during which protesters blocked traffic on the 101 freeway and damaged California Highway Patrol vehicles.
Fifty miles east, in Fontana, California, about 100 protesters blocked traffic as vandals broke the windows of City Hall, police said. "The protesters then began to damage property by throwing rocks at business windows as well as at passing vehicles," Fontana police said in a statement.
Nine people were arrested on allegations related to the unrest, police said.
In Denver, shots were fired near the Capitol, where a protest was taking place. Police spokesman Kurt Barnes said it wasn't immediately clear whether the gunfire was related. No injuries were reported, and no one was in custody, he said
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis later expressed sadness over the state of the demonstrations. "I was absolutely shocked by video evidence of a motorist attempting to run over a protestor," he said in a statement.
"I share the immense anguish we all feel about the unjust murder of George Floyd," he said. "But let me be clear, senseless violence will never be healed by more violence."
In Oakland, California, about 20 protesters briefly occupied an intersection, according to NBC Bay Area.
In, Minneapolis, leaders were calling for peace: Mayor Frey, City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo all pleaded for calm.
"We must restore the peace so we can do this hard work together," Frey said.
Jenkins said that protesters should be angry about Floyd's death in police custody but that they have no right to "perpetrate violence and harm on the very communities that you say you are standing up for."
"We need peace and calm in our streets, and I am begging you for that calm," she added.
National Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes said Thursday that authorities must ensure that justice is served in Floyd's death, "whatever the consequences."
"The fact that he was a suspect in custody is immaterial — police officers should at all times render aid to those who need it," Yoes said. "Police officers need to treat all of our citizens with respect and understanding and should be held to the very highest standards for their conduct."
Local and federal authorities spoke at a joint news conference Thursday, which was delayed for two hours after reports of charges possibly being announced emerged, but no such announcement came.
Representatives from the Justice Department, the FBI and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, along with Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, offered no significant updates other than to promise a swift and thorough investigation of the officers involved in the Floyd case.
The U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Erica MacDonald, said it was imperative that the community understood how seriously the Justice Department was taking the investigation of Floyd's death.
"It breaks my heart to see what is happening in our streets in Minneapolis and St. Paul and in some of our suburbs," MacDonald said. "And I am pleading, I am pleading with individuals to stay calm and to let us conduct this investigation."
Gabe Gutierrez reported from Minneapolis and St. Paul, David K. Li from New York and Dennis Romero reported from San Diego.