It all started with a cellphone video — a teenager recording the excruciating final minutes of George Floyd’s life as he cried out for breath, a White police officer’s unrelenting knee on Floyd’s neck.
Floyd’s killing at the hands of police sparked a summer of historic protest across the country, including days of civil unrest in Minneapolis, the epicenter of what has become a national reckoning on issues of race, police brutality and social justice.
The images of the city on fire have circulated anew in recent weeks as President Trump has made violence and racial unrest the centerpiece of his reelection campaign. But what happened across the Twin Cities in late May is far more complex.
Not unlike the video of Floyd’s death, which contradicted the initial police explanation of events, the hundreds of hours of social media live streams — compiled and mapped out here in a joint project between The Washington Post and the visual storytelling group The Pudding — present a different and more complicated view of what was happening.
The footage presents a picture of protesters as diverse crowds of all ages, including White families and their children. It shows demonstrations that were mostly peaceful until escalated by small groups of protesters and even police themselves. The footage shows the conflicted emotions of those on the ground.
“Stop! This is not okay!” a young female protester cried out as she tried to prevent people from smashing the windows of an empty police cruiser. The footage was captured by Unicorn Riot, the nonprofit media collective that live-streamed hours of protests across the city on social media.
One site of protest that remained consistently peaceful: the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where Floyd died. “This is where it starts,” one man is heard during a live stream of a vigil there. “This is where change happens.”
Below are 149 unedited live stream videos providing a sweeping overview of the first week of protests in Minneapolis.
Warning: Many of these videos contain profanity and graphic content.
As the video of Floyd’s killing goes viral, hundreds of people gather in peaceful protest at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the South Minneapolis intersection where he died in the custody of police. Many are live-streaming the scene, showing the beginnings of a memorial that will soon encompass more than a city block. Flowers and signs are beginning to stack up on the spot where Floyd gasped his final breaths, the knee of a White police officer upon his neck. Videos at the scene capture people of all ages and races as a speaker appeals for all to unite and fight against police brutality against people of color. Hours earlier, city officials announced the four Minneapolis police officers involved in the altercation with Floyd had been fired. But in a city where the police long have been accused of racism and excessive use of force against Black residents, many on the scene say that’s not enough. They call for the officers to be arrested and charged with murder. “We are all here, with one mind, with one goal, and that is to make sure that these officers pay the supreme price for what they did,” a man tells the crowd. “We’re not going to settle for anything but absolute justice.”
As the group prepares to march two miles to the Third Precinct police station, a speaker repeatedly emphasizes the need for peaceful protest and warns of outside groups, including white supremacists, who could blend in with the crowd to stir up trouble. “We pray, in the name of Jesus, that everyone is here for the right reasons,” a woman tells the crowd. “I can’t ask you enough to please be vigilant around you and make sure that you and your neighbors are being safe.”
At 38th and Chicago, community leaders gather in peaceful protest and try to de-escalate tensions ahead of planned demonstrations outside the Third Precinct later that night. But a similar scene erupts, with a handful of protesters tossing rocks and bottles at officers in riot gear who had taken up position around and on the roof of the precinct, firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. Across the street on Wednesday, May 27, a White man wearing a gas mask and carrying an umbrella is seen calmly breaking the windows of an AutoZone store with a hammer, ignoring those who tried to intervene. Police later said the man was a suspected white supremacist whose goal was to incite chaos and violence. Soon, the AutoZone was on fire, the first of several destructive fires along Lake Street, and several businesses were looted, including a nearby Target store. As the situation escalated, Mayor Jacob Frey requested the assistance of the Minnesota National Guard, but residents questioned why the police and fire department did not try to stop the looting and fires, including at a six-story affordable housing complex that burned out of control for hours overnight.
By Thursday, May 28, city and state leaders were scrambling to respond to growing civil unrest across the Twin Cities, including in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul where a group broke windows and looted several businesses along University Avenue in broad daylight. After a second request from Frey, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) activates the National Guard, but the troops aren’t in place as thousands of people take to the streets again — including in downtown Minneapolis and near the Third Precinct, where protesters demand the arrest of the four officers implicated in Floyd’s death. That night, police officers are ordered to abandon the Third Precinct building, which is subsequently set on fire.
State and local officials blame each other amid growing questions about why buildings were allowed to burn throughout the city after the worst night of destruction yet. Frey announces the city will be under an 8 p.m. curfew, in the hope of curtailing the arson and looting that have occurred after dark. On Friday afternoon, May 29, former officer Derek Chauvin is charged with murder in Floyd’s death and surrenders to authorities in neighboring Ramsey County — a development that many hope will help ease tensions. But while many daytime protests remain peaceful, there is more destruction along Lake Street and near the city’s Fifth Precinct police station, where dozens of businesses are set on fire despite what state officials described as the largest deployment of law enforcement in Minnesota history. “This is not about George’s death,” Walz declares at a 1:30 a.m. news conference on May 30. “This is about chaos being caused.”
On Saturday, May 30, protesters were met with a more aggressive law enforcement response across the city, as police and state patrol officers appeared in greater numbers and began arresting protesters in violation of the city’s 8 p.m. curfew. They fired tear gas and other projectiles at people, including members of the media, as they moved to quickly clear the streets — prompting an apology from Walz, who said reporters shouldn’t have been targeted. The tougher response came hours after thousands of people descended on south Minneapolis in a peaceful afternoon protest that included families and children outside the Fifth Precinct, where they were met with officers wielding tear gas guns and riot shields.
After a largely quiet night, thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of downtown Minneapolis, still calling for the arrest of the other officers involved in Floyd’s death. The group begins to march along the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River when a gas tanker truck drives into the crowd, narrowly missing hundreds of protesters. Miraculously, there are no serious injuries. The driver was pulled from the truck and beaten by some on the scene until other protesters intervened. State police later clear him of charges, saying they did not believe he intentionally drove into the crowd. Later, more than 150 peaceful protesters are arrested, mostly on curfew violations, one of the biggest arrest totals of the week.
On June 3, prosecutors announced J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao, the other three officers implicated in Floyd’s death, have been arrested and charged with aiding and abetting murder. A tentative trial date for the four officers is scheduled for March 2021. State and local officials estimate more than 1,500 properties were damaged in the protests, adding up to more than $500 million in damages. Federal officials have charged at least a dozen people with arson to several buildings, including the Third Precinct — indictments that included social media videos and live streams as evidence.