MIAMI — More than 50 people were arrested after peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd escalated Saturday night in downtown Miami, resulting in torched police cars and prompting police officers to fire tear gas into the crowd.
Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department spokesman Juan Diasgranados said a total of 57 people were arrested overnight, mostly for curfew violations.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez enacted a curfew at 10 p.m. as the protests, which started peacefully at the Torch of Friendship, quickly devolved.
After a group of protesters stood on Interstate 95, blocking traffic in both directions for several hours, Gimenez warned on Twitter that it was "creating a dangerous situation for themselves and others. This is not the place or way to protest."
I've asked the @CityofMiami to postpone a fireworks display it had planned for tonight honoring hospital workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. I reached out to @MiamiMayor in light of current protests happening in & around Miami related to George Floyd’s horrific death.(1/4)— Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez (@MayorGimenez) May 30, 2020
The sound of fireworks could easily be mistaken for explosions. We want to make sure that all of our residents are safe and able to exercise their First Amendment right to protest without any fear of violence. (2/4)— Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez (@MayorGimenez) May 30, 2020
I’m concerned that protesters have moved their demonstration onto I-95 this afternoon, creating a dangerous situation for themselves and others. This is not the place or way to protest. (3/4)— Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez (@MayorGimenez) May 30, 2020
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was clearly an assault on the dignity of human life. We must all stand up against this sort of injustice, but we must be done peacefully. (4/4)— Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez (@MayorGimenez) May 30, 2020
Police officers later used bicycles to push back an increasingly rowdy crowd throwing rocks outside the Miami Police Department. Several vehicles were vandalized and set on fire, including at least two police cruisers.
Later Saturday night, videos on social media showed dozens of people breaking into stores at Bayside Marketplace.
"It started off peaceful and we were just walking around chanting stuff, trying to have all our voices heard and when we got to the police department, that's when things started to get a little rowdy," said Savano Wilkerson, a 22-year-old West Palm Beach resident.
He was overcome by the tear gas, along with others around him.
"I had to get milk poured in my eyes twice because I was hit with the gas twice," he said.
Police issued a dispersal order, warning protesters they would be arrested for trespassing if they did not leave the area.
Liseth Hatta, a 27-year-old student at Florida International University, said the protest was largely peaceful with many in the crowd of about 500 singing and urging each other not to break windows or hurt businesses.
But when they arrived at the police station, another group of protesters also converged there and things escalated within minutes.
"There was a sniper on the roof with the police chief standing next to him and they started throwing smoke bombs to the crowd," she said. "Most of them were kids. They couldn't have been older than 21. Everyone ran away screaming."
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told NBC affiliate WTVJ that the tear gas was fired after officers witnessed two vehicles being looted and vandalized by protesters. He said that other than the gas, there was no clash between protesters and police.
"We wanted to give the protesters the opportunity to express themselves peacefully," Suarez said. "We understood there was a tremendous amount of anger -- justifiably so -- over the despicable act that occurred with George Floyd, and, by and large, that's what they did."
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said his officers showed great restraint throughout the ordeal.
"I'm incredibly proud of their efforts," Colina said.
Colina also condemned Floyd's death, saying that the Minnesota man should still be alive.
Diasgranados said "a small portion of individuals" who were arrested came from out of state, including Minnesota, Michigan and New York.