STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
From Seattle to Atlanta, from New York to Dallas, this was the sound of the weekend just past.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST MONTAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: (Chanting) I can't breathe. I can't breathe.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: (Chanting) Hands up. Don't shoot. Hands up. Don't shoot. Hands up. Don't shoot.
INSKEEP: Protests against the death of George Floyd in police custody have even spread overseas. Let's hear from three cities that faced protests over the weekend, starting with the city where Floyd died. Noel is in Minneapolis and, I imagine, has been up much of the night. Noel, good morning.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Yeah. Not much sleep, Steve. Good morning to you.
INSKEEP: What's it like there?
KING: You know, it's one of the most fluid situations I have ever seen. I went out yesterday afternoon. Thousands of people were marching peacefully through downtown Minneapolis in the sun at about 5 p.m. There were young people. There were older people. There were little kids. Everyone was there for the same reason. But I noticed that people are responding in very different ways. There was a woman named Gina Neal (ph) who was just angry. She was yelling. Here's Gina.
GINA NEAL: Why should we ever, ever stop fighting? We can't stop fighting. You know why we can't stop fighting? Because the day we stop fighting, guess what's gonna happen? The same stuff that happened - I'm gonna try not to cuss on y'all radio station. I ain't gonna never stop fighting. I'm never gonna stop fighting for my people.
KING: Now, her partner tried to calm her down, and she kind of brushed him off. About 20 minutes later, I met a man who was there with his wife, his daughter and a grandbaby. His name is Miguel De Leon (ph). And he said to me, I am not an activist. My wife dragged me here. He was contemplating what was going on. And he landed on something that I've heard more than once. He said George Floyd's killing was a kind of strike three.
MIGUEL DE LEON: We got the momentum. We're in the middle of a pandemic, economic despair. You know injustice is not going to settle right with people. They got a lot of pent-up emotion, a lot of frustration, uncertainty. So it creates an energy. So when you get a release - and it's like, that's it. Everybody coming out. They're reacting.
KING: So the vibe was everyone is here for George Floyd, but everybody is also processing this differently.
INSKEEP: Yeah. It also seems, Noel, in city after city, there's a kind of day shift that's peaceful and a night shift of protest that can be more violent. So given that most people are marching peacefully, who's not?
KING: That is the question of the day, the week, the month. Look. Here's the facts, Steve. Public records show that most people who've been arrested here in Minneapolis are from the state of Minnesota. But so many people have told me, no, it's not us. Outsiders are responsible for the violence. They say these are people from out of state. They say these are people who are white. They call them extremists. Even Minnesota's governor has said that most people doing the worst damage are out-of-staters. But again, this is really hard to confirm because there's a lot of bad and conflicting information out there. We may not know for a while. Last night, I should say, thankfully, was mostly peaceful.
INSKEEP: But there were many businesses that were damaged. So how are people responding to that?
KING: People are conflicted. And a thing I want to point out to you is that people are internally conflicted about the violence. Not a single person here in Minneapolis has told me they want outsiders coming in and starting trouble. But if you ask people, is this violence justified? - you hear something that is more subtle. I met a 64-year-old man named Pastor Brian Herron. He leads the Zion Baptist Church. He remembers the civil rights movement and he told me at first, you know, this violence is evil. It should stop. But I got the feeling that he was not telling me the whole truth. So I just asked him a direct question.
Is there any part of you that still wants to get out there and burn something down?
BRIAN HERRON: Oh, please. All day, every day. But for God. But for God - that he makes the difference in my life. Man, you think I'm not mad enough to tear something up, to hurt some folk? But what good would that do? Who would that serve? What purpose would it serve?
KING: So, Steve, even people who are nonviolent will tell you after George Floyd's death, I get it.
INSKEEP: Noel King is in Minneapolis much of this week. Thanks for bringing us those voices, Noel.
KING: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Several thousand protesters stood outside the White House here in Washington yesterday. They broke through the first of several layers of police barricades that surrounded that building. They were stopped at a second barrier, which was heavily guarded by police. In that tense atmosphere, many protesters declined to give their full names, among them a man who said just to call him J.
J: We need Donald Trump to do something. And he won't even come out and address his country. Innocent black man was killed - not for the first time, not for the second time. Come outside and address the people. Do something.
INSKEEP: If he came out and tried to say something calming, would you trust or believe anything that he said?
J: No. No. I mean, honestly, no.
INSKEEP: The protests were peaceful much of the day but not all of it. And NPR's Joe Shapiro was out throughout much of the day, watching. Hi there, Joe.
JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: How did the mood change?
SHAPIRO: Well, as you said, for most of the day, the mood was somber, and people were serious. They came to stand up, to be counted, like this young woman I met, Madeline Hornbuckle (ph). She talked about her mixed emotions.
MADELINE HORNBUCKLE: Part of the day, you're mad. You're mad at everything that's going on. And the other part, you're sad because it's - the reason why you're here, honestly. You're thinking about why you're here, what you're fighting for. You're hearing what people are yelling for. And it's ultimately for justice and peace. And why do we have to fight for that? We should already have it.
SHAPIRO: And she talked about how things had been tense through the day, too. There was a heavy police presence, as you know, a long line of police, Secret Service and Park Police around Lafayette Square. Some were on horseback. And as you said, they kept the protesters far from the White House fence. And remember, President Trump in the last few days had threatened the protesters. He boasted that the Secret Service had ominous weapons and vicious dogs. The mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, said his comments reminded her of the police dogs turned on civil rights protesters in the South.
INSKEEP: Nevertheless, in those early hours, a peaceful protest. Even if people went past a barricade, it remained relatively peaceful. Then what happened?
SHAPIRO: Well as the city's 11 p.m. curfew approached, things just changed. It started - someone set a fire in a public restroom at the edge of Lafayette Park. And police advanced. The protesters ran. And some started fires in nearby buildings.
INSKEEP: Did you sense that there was something that caused that change?
SHAPIRO: It was like some invisible switch got turned on. And the protest went from peaceful to chaotic. In Lafayette Square, some people were throwing water bottles and flares and fireworks at the police. And the police responded with concussion grenades and tear gas. And in neighborhoods around the city, people smashed the windows of stores and coffee shops and banks and office buildings.
INSKEEP: Did everybody approve of this violence?
SHAPIRO: No. I was interviewing this woman, Chiques Dennis (ph), who was upset about the destruction. And we're talking - we're standing across the street from the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, the large federation of unions. As she's talking, there are people that are trying to break the windows there.
CHIQUES DENNIS: We're not violent, all right? We are out here making a statement, OK? So we're not out here trying to destroy anything. I don't know what the hell - what is that over there? I don't know what's going on over there, but oh, my gosh.
INSKEEP: One of the people who spoke with NPR's Joseph Shapiro here in Washington. Joe, thanks so much.
SHAPIRO: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: And we'll hear next from Los Angeles. Authorities called in the National Guard for the first time in that city since the unrest after the videotaped beating of Rodney King in 1992. Much of the trouble was focused in Santa Monica. And reporter Stephanie O'Neill was there. Good morning to you.
STEPHANIE O'NEILL, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What did you see?
O'NEILL: So it was pretty rough in Santa Monica, with looting and vandalism that started slightly before 4 p.m. curfew put an end to an otherwise peaceful protest near the Santa Monica Pier. And then when protesters didn't leave immediately, police resorted to tear gas and 38-caliber rubber bullets to move them out. And about the same time, a large number of looters moved into the city's center. And they began several hours of smashing storefront windows, vandalizing businesses and setting fires to several buildings and a handful of cars. And they were targeting big stores like CVS and Target and REI. And then they were going after a bunch of mom and pop shops throughout the downtown.
INSKEEP: Is it clear to you who the people committing the acts of violence were?
O'NEILL: From what we could tell, they looked mostly like they were agitators. They weren't the same protesters. That's what - from what I saw and from witnesses who I spoke to. These just weren't protesters. I spoke to a man named Ronaldo (ph) who only wanted to use his first name. And he characterized it all this way.
RONALDO: This is not a protest. This is anarchy. This is looting. And it's not done by Black Lives Matter. These are opportunists that's taking advantage of this situation and doing what they want to do.
INSKEEP: Did you get a chance, Stephanie, to talk with any of the business leaders, the business people whose stores were targeted here?
O'NEILL: I did. And it was pretty heartbreaking because their businesses have been closed because of a pandemic. They just were getting them opened. And now they have all this destruction. Those who got hit hard have all this destruction they've got to deal with. And they were sort of just kind of resigned and sad and heartbroken. There wasn't a lot of anger. It was just a lot of sadness I picked up there yesterday.
INSKEEP: You suddenly have people who were thinking in terms of reopening and thinking in terms of a summer of restored business who are now thinking in terms of trying to clean up shattered glass, I suppose.
O'NEILL: Exactly. And it's - the whole city is looking pretty bad right now. I guess the concern, too, is there was all this excitement with people thinking, OK, we get a chance to start things and get things going. And now they're looking at big losses again and cleanups and just lost items - some of the things they can't get back especially the mom and pop stores. You know, those folks were hit really, really hard during the pandemic. And so they're just facing a lot of loss here. And again, a lot of sadness and heartbreak out there.
INSKEEP: Reporter Stephanie O'Neill is in Los Angeles. Thank you so much.
O'NEILL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.