Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison (D.) told Minneapolis residents protesting the death of George Floyd to direct their ire at local police, rather than the National Guard that has been called into the city to help restore order.
Ellison's remarks come as Minneapolis has been beset by protests and riots after Floyd died in police custody on Monday. Video taken shortly before his death shows a police officer pinning the unarmed man's neck down with his knee for several minutes. Angry demonstrators set fires across the city, including to a police precinct.
"I'd like everyone to recognize the fact that the National Guard just a week ago was administering COVID-19 tests to help people," Ellison said. "The presence you see on the street, don't react to them the way you might react to the Minneapolis Police Department. It's not the same group. They have different leadership, different authority, and their job is to try to bring peace and calm back again. Please remember that this is not the group that you associate with unfair conduct."
At a press conference with Minnesota governor Tim Walz (D.) and other state officials, Ellison said a riot is how the "the unheard get heard," quoting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
"Don't just dismiss that and ignore it, and relegate it to just criminality and bad behavior. Actually ask yourself what's going on there," Ellison said of the protests. "I think we must pay attention to it."
Ellison, the former deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, drew criticism in 2018 when he posed with a picture of the book Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. Antifa is a far-left organization that endorses violence against its political enemies. He is also a former member of the Nation of Islam who once referred to the group's radical anti-Semitic leader Louis Farrakhan as a "role model."
Before being elected to his current office, Ellison represented Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District in Congress. His seat is now filled by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.).