May 28 (UPI) -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday signed an executive order activating the National Guard in response to protests over the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Walz said he issued the order at the request of local leaders who called on the state government for National Guard resources after "extensive damage to private property" occurred during the protests.
"As governor, I will always defend the right to protest," Walz said. "It is how we express pain, process tragedy and create change. That is why I am answering our local leaders' request for Minnesota National Guard assistance to protect peaceful demonstrators, neighbors and small businesses in Minnesota."
In addition to the National Guard, approximately 200 Minnesota State Patrol troopers will be deployed along with state patrol helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to assist law enforcement officers on the ground.
Floyd died Monday after he was restrained by a Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck. Floyd had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill at a grocery store.
The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday it has made investigating his death a "top priority," as protests have erupted nationwide to demand justice.
Video of Floyd's arrest, in which he is heard telling officers he can't breathe, spawned immediate shock and civil unrest in Minneapolis that later spread to other cities nationwide Wednesday. Activists have said the use of force against Floyd -- an African-American man -- was racially motivated.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the FBI's Minneapolis Field Office said Thursday they're conducting "a robust" criminal investigation."
"The Department of Justice has made the investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter," they said.
The New York Police Department said 40 people were arrested during a protest in Union Square during which 100 protesters lined up face-to-face with police.
Police said there was shoving between officers and protesters at around 4 p.m. and another fight broke out bout an hour later. Two officers were injured during the demonstrations.
In Southern California, hundreds of demonstrators organized by Black Lives Matter-LA marched in downtown Los Angeles and at one point blocked a freeway. Some protesters vandalized a California Highway Patrol car by smashing its rear window.
The demonstration ultimately drew an angry crowd outside of the Los Angeles County Hall of Justice.
In Tennessee, dozens of protesters gathered outside police department headquarters in Memphis and engaged in verbal confrontations with several dozen officers and a couple counterprotesters.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has called for the arrest of Chauvin. The Minneapolis Police Department said it fired him and three other officers -- J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao -- who were involved.
The Minneapolis neighborhood where Floyd died was the site of more violence and looting Wednesday, with protesters throwing rocks at a local police precinct station and setting fire to buildings.
A man was shot to death during the violence. Police said a man was in custody in connection with the incident.
A survey on Thursday morning revealed extensive damage. A Wendy's restaurant and an AutoZone auto parts store had been completely destroyed by fire, as had a pair of apartment buildings under construction nearby.
A Target store and a grocery store had been looted while scores of other businesses in the area sustained property damage.
"It's like a war came through here last night," store owner Julie Ingebretsen told Minnesota Public Radio. "It's just destruction. And it makes me so sad, I can hardly stand it."
Philonise Floyd, George's brother, called him "a gentle giant" who wouldn't hurt anybody.
"Knowing my brother is to love my brother," he told CNN.
A native of Houston, Floyd, 46, worked as a security guard at a Minneapolis bistro for five years before his death.