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Sioux Falls may be South Dakota’s largest city, but it’s no Minneapolis in terms of population or the number of demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd. And South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem moved swiftly last night to make sure Sioux Falls did not come to resemble a smaller Minneapolis in looting and rioting either, after a faction of what had been a peaceful crowd of 2,000 protesters turned violent.
The trouble started when some protesters targeted the Empire Mall around dusk, throwing rocks, attempting to pull someone from a car and attacking police.
Sioux Falls Police Lt. Jon Thum on scene said there were “many” officers hit by rocks and that at one point gun shots went off near TJ Maxx, where protesters had begun throwing things at windows.
The situation “escalated very quickly,” [Sioux Falls Mayor Paul] TenHaken said, and encouraged people to go home.
“We need everybody to go home,” he said. “Remember Sioux Falls is a great city, full of great people. We just need to let this cool down.”
But Noem evidently had South Dakota National Guard troops on stand by, ready to go in case of trouble, according to media reports.
“South Dakota hoped for the best but prepared for the worst. We activated the National Guard the minute things turned violent in Sioux Falls,” said Governor Noem. “This is a specialized unit that is prepared for situations like this. We take protection of rights very seriously, including the right to peacefully protest, but rioting and looting will not be tolerated in South Dakota. Make no mistake, mob rule and violence do nothing to honor the memory of victims.”
Mayor TenHaken declared an emergency and slapped on a curfew, first on the area around the mall, then citywide. At a press conference today, TenHaken praised Noem for her preparation and decisive response that freed up local police to concentrate on securing the mall and dispersing protesters before the crowd got out of control.
“I want to thank the governor, I want to thank the highway patrol, and the [national] guard for the support they provided the city the last 24 hours and will continue to provide the city,” TenHaken said. “There was a whole lot of behind the scenes legwork that was going on the last several days to insure that we were properly resourced for what happened last night.”
Some 70 members of the South Dakota National Guard remain on standby in Sioux Falls, along with other units stationed in cities around the state.
“We believe firmly and will always defend the right for freedom of speech and people’s ability to peacefully protest,” Noem said at today’s news briefing. “That changed last night and I think South Dakotans got a real glimpse of what can happen when that steps over the line and it becomes violent.”