MINNEAPOLIS -- An afternoon of peaceful demonstrations across the Twin Cities Sunday was shattered when a tanker truck drove through — or nearly through — a crowd of demonstrators marching on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis.
But apparently, it hit none of them, according to authorities, who were unclear of the driver’s motives as of 8 p.m.
“Not to have a tragedy and many deaths is just an amazing thing,” Gov. Tim Walz said at 7 p.m., a little over an hour after the incident happened.
The driver was mobbed by the crowd, detained for police, who arrested him. After being treated at a hospital for non life-threatening injuries, he was released into police custody.
The horrifying and chaotic incident was still being investigated as nightfall approached, heralding the third straight night of curfew and highway closures as the metro area and thousands of law enforcement and National Guard personnel braced for whatever the night might bring.
The area is reeling following a week that witnessed widespread and unchecked violence, looting and fires until Saturday night, when the state’s largest-ever assemblage of law enforcement — a militarized force, really — was aided by widespread curfew compliance and seized control of the streets.
In a pattern that has played out in cities across the nation, the demonstrations followed by escalating violence began after Monday’s death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on him.
There were signs that those intent on doing harm — and it’s unclear exactly who they are — would try again Sunday.
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said authorities continued to discover caches of incendiary materials in vehicles and other places. Some appeared to be days old and were found in areas where fires previously had been set, while others appeared to have been placed within the previous 24 hours. They were associated with a fleet of vehicles, many if not all stolen, that have been stripped of license plates.
Harrington said the pattern speaks to sophisticated planning and coordination.
1,500 protesters march from Capitol
About 1,500 people who gathered for a large protest at the Capitol in St. Paul on Sunday began marching later in the afternoon and walked onto Interstate 94. They headed westbound for about an hour before they exited.
Police described the group as organized and peaceful. After leaving the Capitol, the group used the St. Anthony Avenue ramp to enter Interstate 94 West shortly after 4 p.m. They exited at Lexington Parkway about 5 p.m. to University Avenue and headed east.
The protest began at 1 p.m., with people calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed in the case of George Floyd, who died on Monday after a Minneapolis police officer was seen on video kneeling on his neck.
Derek Chauvin, who was fired from the police department, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Later Sunday, Gov. Tim Walz announced Attorney General Keith Ellis will lead the case.
People at Sunday’s protest were also calling for three other officers who were present, and who have also been terminated from the Minneapolis police department, to be arrested and charged.
Arrest total: 155
More than 155 people were arrested on Saturday night and Sunday as law enforcement and the Minnesota National Guard changed tactics after several nights of arson and looting in the Twin Cities.
Based on intelligence gathered by law enforcement and with the cooperation of community members, the Minnesota Multi-Agency Command Center “deployed fast-moving teams to targets that were of high value and high probability of attack,” according to a statement from the Department of Public Safety.
People were arrested on suspicion of curfew violation, weapons possession, narcotics possession and rioting, according to DPS. The State Patrol confiscated seven firearms and the Minneapolis Police Department recovered five firearms.
Truck vs. crowd
TV aerial video and state traffic cameras showed a disturbing and chaotic series of events before 6 p.m. after a large crowd of marchers had taken to I-35W, which was officially closed at 5 p.m.
Harrington said that preliminary reviews of state traffic cameras suggested the driver was already on the highway when crews began closing it. There were no signs the driver ever drove around any barriers, he said.
Here’s the full statement by the Department of Public Safety:
“Very disturbing actions by a truck driver on I-35W, inciting a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. The truck driver was injured & taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. He is under arrest. It doesn’t appear any protesters were hit by the truck.”
The 18-wheeler tanker truck drove toward and into the edge of the crowd at what appeared to be swift speed before coming to a halt. The crowd largely appeared to scatter in advance of the truck. The truck did not appear to swerve or veer toward the crowd as it came to a stop.
The cab was soon mobbed. Video shows the truck then begin to drive forward again with people on its hood and clinging to both sides of the cab. One of them appeared to break the driver’s front window, and the truck stopped rolling. That person can be seen breaching the cab through the driver’s front window.
Immediately following, the crowds fled from the stretch of interstate, which is elevated as it approaches a span over the Mississippi River. Some people could be seen vaulting over guardrails.
Police soon swarmed the area. Around 6:20 p.m., a convoy of National Guard trucks, including some with a medical insignia, arrived on the scene.
Before the incident, a large crowd of perhaps thousands had been marching and sitting on the bridge in what appeared to be a largely peaceful protest. They arrived there as one of several bands of crowds that had recently left a peaceful protest at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Nick Ferraro, Fred Melo and Mara H. Gottfried of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this report.