A downtown Miami protest that started off peacefully Saturday afternoon erupted into chaos by nightfall, with several cars set on fire and police deploying tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the crowd. The tumultuous scene led Miami-Dade's mayor to declare a countywide curfew and police threatened to arrest anyone who remained in the area.
Protesters began gathering in downtown Miami at 3 p.m. to condemn the killing of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer was filmed pinning his knee into Floyd's neck. At the Torch of Friendship on Biscayne Boulevard, a little over 100 demonstrators assembled, holding signs and chanting the names of Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor, three recent victims of police violence.
"I'm here 'cause I'm tired. I'm 29, and I've been protesting police violence for ten years and nothing's changed," protester Theresa Alphonse told New Times. "I'm so frustrated. I needed to stand in solidarity with everyone standing in solidarity with George Floyd."
The protesters' numbers multiplied as they marched down NE Third Street toward Miami Police Department headquarters. The crowd cycled between chanting "black lives matter" and "no justice, no peace, no racist police." Police officers on bicycles bordered the protest for most of the march, keeping their distance and blocking streets to let the march proceed.
Outside police headquarters, protesters shouted for an end to police brutality and the deaths of black men, women, and children. Overhead, two police choppers circled the crowd and a man stationed atop the police building piloted a small camera drone. Protesters held a 60-second moment of silence with their fists in the air.
The demonstration was nonviolent for most of the day. With the exception of a few spray-painted tags of "George Floyd," "Care Not Cops," and "Fuck 12" — a reference to police — on Metrorail support columns and various barricades, protesters refrained from vandalism.
By 5 p.m., the march was still circling Biscayne Boulevard as some participants splintered off.
Most demonstrators wore protective masks. Some wore the Guy Fawkes masks associated with the Anonymous movement.
"The protest was peaceful. We've been doing this for years and years. I respect that my people can remain cordial," said a man who identified himself as Clean J.
He said that although the protest remained calm as evening approached, he believed it wouldn't accomplish much without a greater show of force.
"I don't think this is productive. We've been doing it forever, and the situation with the police is that they don't respect it," he said. "I'm sad to say, my honest opinion is that being destructive would be productive."
The protesters who remained soon marched onto Interstate 95, shutting down traffic in a scene reminiscent of a 2014 Miami protest after grand juries decided not to indict police in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Shortly before 8 p.m., the situation devolved.
Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles tweeted a video of Miami police using tear gas to disperse the crowd at 7:49. Minutes later, she reported that officers were firing rubber bullets.
Downtown, several cars were torched, including a patrol vehicle:
Multiple cars on fire. Tear gas still being deployed pic.twitter.com/38X17iV6Ju— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) May 31, 2020
The Miami-Dade Police Department quickly announced a "dispersal order," tweeting that anyone who remained outside police headquarters or the county's Stephen P. Clark Government Center would be subject to arrest for trespassing.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez announced a countywide curfew of 10 p.m.
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Around 9 p.m., multiple reporters on the scene said shops at Bayside Marketplace were being looted:
Foot Locker at Bayside also looted. Riot police just moved in. Everybody already cleared it. pic.twitter.com/RbgSRHjDLT— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) May 31, 2020