St. Paul police chief: Peaceful protesters should be protected, but not anyone bent on destruction

St. Paul’s police chief said Tuesday he hears the community members who are filled with anguish and also those who are scared after acts of destruction.

Todd Axtell said he wanted people to hear that message from him in the wake of people looting businesses and setting them on fire in St. Paul on Thursday and into Friday. Since then, he said, “the tide seems to have changed.”

There have been peaceful protests in St. Paul that have drawn thousands of people who are voicing their anger and distress about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.

“We take care of our peaceful protesters and we have done that historically throughout our department and my heart breaks for our entire community who has been tragically impacted by this outrageous incident, but we will never take care of or coddle people who want to terrorize our community by looting, setting our businesses on fire and injuring our officers who are out there to protect us all,” Axtell said. “I truly believe that it’s a false choice to say that destruction and danger is the only path to change. They can help by making their voice heard peacefully under the curfew.”

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

A nighttime curfew has been in place in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and Axtell said “it helps our officers focus more on the people who are potentially out to terrorize our community.”

Law enforcement officers arrested about 65 people at the Capitol after Monday night’s 10 p.m. curfew. Axtell believed most were there in an act of civil disobedience after an earlier peaceful march, but noted a few had helmets — “normally a sign that they are expecting a conflict with police,” he said.

Police found a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire in a van marked as a community “medic” vehicle near the Capitol, according to the department.

The curfew continues tonight, beginning at 10 p.m.

More than 170 businesses were damaged or looted in St. Paul last week, according to police. The fire department reported there were 55 fires, primarily to commercial buildings, in St. Paul between Thursday and Friday morning.

Arrest update:

48 people were arrested at the Capitol.

A protester support vehicle was towed. The van was marked as a “medic vehicle,” and inside there were milk containers, helmets and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.

Go home, stay safe and help us keep St Paul secure.

— Saint Paul Police Department (@sppdmn) June 2, 2020

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