Minneapolis/St. Paul Protests Under Occupation, by Kim DeFranco

People were shaken to the core by the video taken by Darnella Frazier, the brave young woman who captured Floyd’s last moments of life struggling to breathe and calling out for his mother while Chauvin never lifted his knee from his neck.   

During the occupation of Minneapolis, thousands marched to demand killings by police and for police reform. Photo: Emma Sron.  

By Kim DeFranco  WAMM Newsletter  Summer 2021  Vol. 39  Num. 3

On May 25, 2020, we witnessed yet another police killing of a Black man. The lockdown for COVID-19 had been in full force for two months, hitting minority communities the hardest as Minnesota watched a video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while Floyd was unarmed, handcuffed, and pinned face down on the street.

Over the years, the country has seen many Black people die at the hands of police. The police in the United States are almost never held accountable, charged, or convicted for using unnecessary excessive and, at times, deadly force.

However, this murder by police was different. People were shaken to the core by the video taken by Darnella Frazier, the brave young woman who captured Floyd’s last moments of life struggling to breathe and calling out for his mother while Chauvin never lifted his knee from his neck.

This was the last straw for many Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. The response came hard and fast. Thousands of people from all different communities, including many White Minnesotans, flooded into the streets in protest and demanded accountability for Floyd’s death. Protests took place the day after his death and continued up to Chauvin’s conviction on April 30, 2021.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2020 rallies, marches, and speak-outs took place in the streets of Minneapolis — at City Hall, and in public spaces outside at the homes of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the chair of the Minneapolis City Council, and Mayor Jacob Frey —demanding justice for Floyd, the arrest of all four police officers involved, and the assurance that a special prosecutor would be appointed to handle the cases. In neighboring St. Paul, people gathered in protest at the Minnesota State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.

During these months, many groups and individuals came together demanding accountability for all lives stolen through police killings, in addition to Floyd’s. A coalition was formed among seventeen community activist groups, comprised of Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, Muslim, youth and students, immigrant, antiwar activists, families against police violence, and other social justice groups. Since many of these groups have been established for years, an infrastructure existed to provide the community with the organizing tools and the support needed, providing space for people to express their anger and grief and to create powerful events, which helped to get boots on the ground faster. These original groups also provided guidance to work toward real solutions and demand change as the protests grew organically.

The city of Minneapolis chose not to reach out to the established groups for their input or help.

Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality, one of the most long-established groups in the coalition, stated, “Most of the people who were out there were sincere. They cared about their rights and the rights of others. They wanted to contribute to a better world for their families and others.”

Minneapolis burns   

Though fewer in number, some people who came to the protests had malicious and incendiary intent. On May 27, 2020, the second day of the protests, a video emerged of a mysterious “Umbrella Man,” dressed in black, wearing gloves, and carrying an umbrella, breaking the windows of the Auto Zone which was located across from the Third Precinct police station. The application for a search warrant identified him as a White male with known ties to a White supremacist motorcycle gang. It stated his intention to incite violence. This was related to the first fire that set off a string of fires throughout the precinct and other parts of the city, mainly around Lake Street.[1] Fires were also set in St. Paul in the Midway district. [It appears that arsonists had exceptional knowledge of fire-setting, as they quickly took down brick buildings as well as auto supply stores containing highly flammable products.]

Gross said that while the burning of the Third Precinct station brought cheers from Black and Brown youth who had righteous anger over the continued oppressive policing in their communities, “no person that lives in the neighborhood, no matter how angry, would burn down a library, post office, school, or grocery store.” She pointed out that most of the people who were arrested for burning buildings [including the police station] turned out to be White supremacists.[2] “Out-of-state people, out-of-towners came in and used this opportunity to start a race war. However, the city now can play off this to vilify protesters and launch disgusting attacks on them,” Gross concluded.

Law enforcement overreach, collective punishment, and military tactics

Police shoot projectiles from behind concrete barricades during the first days of the George Floyd protests. Photo: Brad Sigal

During the first days of the uprising, as the number of people in the streets grew, Minneapolis police forces and Minnesota state troopers in riot gear, as well as county sheriff’s departments, responded with force. People in the streets definitely outnumbered them, but law enforcement had weapons and didn’t discriminate among the people who were out. Instead, they shot tear gas and flashbangs indiscriminately into the crowd.

After two nights of buildings burning and criticism of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for being too slow in ordering up the National Guard, night curfew was called. According to the order, people needed to be at their homes starting in the evening lasting till morning – otherwise police would believe “you are up to no good.”

During the scheduled curfew time, a viral video emerged showing Minneapolis police officers firing “marker rounds” at residents who were standing on the porch of their house. (Marker rounds, used by police, are in the form of bullets filled with marker dye, which then identify people when the police want to arrest them later.) The residents were in compliance with the curfew and, from their porch, were filming police officers doing a sweep of the neighborhood. As the police were coming down their street, they screamed at the residents to get inside their house while one officer can be heard yelling, “Light ’em up,” as the marker rounds hit them.[3]

People also reported seeing law enforcement slashing tires of cars parked in an empty parking lot, resulting in people who wanted to leave the streets at night unable to get to their cars to go home.

Throughout this period, law enforcement continued to use “less lethal” ammunition such as rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and tear gas on the people. Rubber bullets have caused serious injuries when hitting body parts. Tear gas has been outlawed for military use but isn’t outlawed for police use. The gas has very dangerous side effects and can even cause death.

Many independent journalists and live streamers had quickly begun reporting on the frontlines, showing protests in real time, as well as filming people telling the horrible truths about how their loved ones’ lives had been stolen from them by police. People watching TV and internet screens in their homes were able to see demonstrations up close and watch brutal police tactics used against protesters who were exercising their right to demand justice and change.

Independent journalist and livestreamer Emma Sron reported how another independent journalist lost an eye when it was shot out by law enforcement. (Emma is a co-chair of the Women Against Military Madness board.)

As rallies and marches continued, many opinions floated throughout the U.S. describing the protesters in broad generalities which lumped all the people in the streets together. The city and state leaders bought into this generalized scenario. They applied overreach of policing and collective punishment, creating a military-style occupation in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

In the spring of 2021, as the Chauvin trial approached and protests continued, the government power structure became even more fearful of people’s reaction if Chauvin weren’t convicted. Concerned that there could be an uprising like the one the previous spring, the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis decided to use a two-prong approach to keep the “city and its citizens safe.” To try to ensure that things didn’t get out of hand, they formed Operation Safety Net and created the Office of Violence Prevention.

Protests continued in Minneapolis through Chauvin’s trial. The names of others, whose lives were stolen by police, were written within the letters of George Floyd’s name. Banner Design: C.J. McCormick, Antiwar Committee. Photo: Emma Sron.

Operation Safety Net

Again, there was going to be collective punishment that took the form of a militarized occupation of the city. The occupation included most of the downtown areas and police precincts, which were fortified with layers of barbed wire, fencing, and concrete blocks. The Minnesota governor called up 3,500 National Guard troops. They were stationed at the Hennepin County Government Center where the trial would be held and tasked with patrolling the streets of low-income neighborhoods where mostly Black, Brown, and Indigenous people lived. Troops were also seen in their vehicles or on foot, rifles slung over their bodies, patrolling streets and alleys in other parts of Minneapolis, and in St. Paul blocks near the Governor’s Mansion.

The Office of Violence Prevention

If the militarized occupation wasn’t enough, the City of Minneapolis decided to offer grants. It would pay groups $175,000 each to be “trusted messengers” and “violence interrupters.” People from seven groups that received money were sent out to demonstrations to intervene with community members in whatever they deemed to be tense situations. Along with the additional cost of the barricades, the Violence Interrupter program would last throughout the duration of the trial and beyond, costing the city (and its taxpayers) about $1 million. These approaches didn’t bring safety to the people in the streets. Police and paid city organizations often brought more harm than prevention.

Another killing by police and more military style response

Shockingly, on April 11, 2021, while the Chauvin trial was still going on, police committed another murder in the Minneapolis area. This time it was in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb. A White policewoman, Kim Potter, on the force for 26 years, killed Daunte Wright, a young Black man, while attempting to arrest him during a traffic stop.

After it was reported, people quickly gathered at the site to demand justice, information, and release of the body camera video. During that time, a potentially dangerous situation was created when two cop cars were parked right in front of people who were visibly horrified at the killing. The location of the police cars acted as a provocation. A few angry people in the crowd smashed the windows and jumped on the roofs of the police cars. Police responded with rubber bullets, and injuries were reported among the people gathered. The police left the scene and the crowd moved on to the Brooklyn Center police precinct.

Demonstrations were livestreamed, revealing problems caused by “violence interrupters” from the groups collaborating with the city. In one incident, members of one of these organizations decided to stop a person from chanting, deeming a chant offensive, going as far as disconnecting the mic. When a Black journalist called out their behavior, he was sworn at. Another time, a person from one of the collaborator organizations went up to the fencing around the Brooklyn Center precinct to cut the plastic ties holding parts of the barricade together and encouraged others to do the same. When that person left, the police retaliated, leaving the crowd to receive the police wrath of rubber bullets and tear gas.

Protests continued all week, day and night, and more people joined in, outnumbering the police. As a result, the governor and mayors in Brooklyn Center and surrounding cities once again called for curfews. Most nights police continued to use tear gas and marker rounds on people and rubber bullets to push back the crowds. Many people were arrested and left in jail for up to three days on probable cause for rioting. Police also targeted journalists, even though they are exempted from the curfew policies. A number of journalists were tear gassed, shot at, and sustained injuries, and were even detained before being released.

The Brooklyn Center police station is located in the heart of a residential neighborhood, and families and children who live there were affected. Tear gas seeped through windows.  Children were traumatized by the constant noise of shots being fired. Neighbors just trying to get into their homes were either stopped or arrested. Police did sweeps through the surrounding neighborhoods looking for any demonstrators. One night, a church nearby, Kenyan Community Seventh-day Adventist Church, offered shelter to demonstrators, including the injured. The police surrounded the church as a form of intimidation but eventually left.

In expectation of the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and in the wake of the death of Daunte Wright, Minnesota Governor Walz announced he would call in reinforcements in the form of law enforcement from states beyond Minnesota,[4] requesting the extra funding during a call with legislative leaders. This was done instead of reaching out to Wright’s family or addressing the people’s concerns.

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Change comes from the people

In conclusion, elected officials allowed the police structure to use many types of repressive tactics against community members, revealing that forces continue to see the people they supposedly serve as antagonists and enemies. When they could have, officials did not take opportunities to work with standing community groups or families who had suffered because of police violence, and only attempted to reach out to them when it was too late. Collective punishment had already been used against the community. However, in the aftermath, responding to continued pressure, some elected officials at the state and local levels have taken measures towards police reform.

While action is not being taken fast enough or reforms have been weaker than what the people want, some strides are being made. Minnesota state representatives moved reforms forward, and Governor Walz has put more pressure on reluctant legislators, who are in control of the senate, to take action.

And, on May 15, 2021, the Brooklyn Center City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution that would create a roadmap for policing changes. Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, who offered the resolution, addressed the public: “It says that we, as your elected leaders, are committing ourselves. And that you can hold us accountable for achieving those goals.”

The people proved that despite facing formidable obstacles that could have served to scale back protests and scare protesters away, in the end this didn’t prevent them from demonstrating, marching, and calling for accountability, it didn’t work in the end. The desire for justice was so strong that even during the pandemic, thousands of people came out for George Floyd and other casualties of police violence, insisting on positive change in policing.  Minneapolis has forged its way to be a beacon of light and hope for people who demand a better world and has led the way in showing how it can be done. All power to the people!

Kim DeFranco participated in many of the events following the murder of George Floyd. She is a member of the Women Against Military Madness Newsletter Committee.

[1] Police Dept. arson investigator application for a warrant. https://tinyurl.com/yue94mu3
[2] “Boogaloo Boi’ charged in fire of Minneapolis precinct during George Floyd protest” The Guardian October 23, 2020  tinyurl.com/dt3njkc; “Brainerd man who helped burn MPD 3rd precinct sentenced to 4 years in prison, owes $12 million in restitution” Tommy Wilta KSTP Eyewitness News April 28. 29, 2021 tinyurl.com/msbeb8jm; “Four Indicted in Minneapolis Third Precinct Arson” Press release, United States Dept. of Justice, United States Attorney’s Office, District of Minnesota  August 25, 2020 tinyurl.com/f3vacdpw
[3] video film of incident: https://twitter.com/tkerssen/status/1266921821653385225
[4] Emergency Executive Order 20-21 “Declaring a Peace Time Emergency to Provide Safety and Protection”  https://tinyurl.com/4hdur3jj
The WAMM Newsletter is a publication of Women Against Military Madness.

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Excerpt: “Most of the people who were out there were sincere. They cared about their rights and the rights of others. They wanted to contribute to a better world for their families and others.”

One comment

  1. Beginning as a young boy watching the original release of the 1977 TV miniseries ‘Roots’, I can recall how bewildered I’d always get just by the concept of Black people being brutalized and told they were not welcome — while they, as a people, had been violently forced to the U.S. from their African home as slaves! And, as a people, there has been no reparations or real refuge for them in the U.S., since. In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, the narrator notes that, like the South, the Civil War era northern states also hated Black people but happened to hate slavery more.

    After 3.5 decades of news consumption, I’ve found that a disturbingly large number of categorized people, however precious their souls, can be considered thus treated as though disposable, even to an otherwise democratic nation. When the young children of those people take notice of this, tragically, they’re vulnerable to begin perceiving themselves as beings without value. (Such psychological trauma can readily result in a debilitating drug addiction, a continuous attempt at silencing through self-medicating the pain of serious life trauma or PTSD. The pain — which unlike an open physical disability or condition, such as paralysis, a missing limb or eye — is very formidable yet invisibly confined to inside one’s head, solitarily suffered.)

    When I say this, I primarily have in mind Black Americans. But, tragically, such horrendous occurrences still happen on Earth, often enough going unrealized to the rest of the world; sadly, sometimes those atrocious acts are allowed to remain a buried secret, both figuratively and literally. While the inhuman(e) devaluation of such people is basically based on their race, it still reminds me of an external devaluation, albeit a subconscious one, of the daily civilian lives lost in protractedly devastating war zones and heavily armed sieges. They can eventually receive meagre column inches on the back page in the First World’s daily news.

    Their lives and pain must matter, otherwise past atrocious mistreatment can or eventually will be repeated. Some people need to believe that humanity could/would not allow such repeats in our ‘much more civilized’ modern times. I, however, doubt that is the way large-scale societies — let alone border-segregated, independent nations — necessarily behave collectively. Not only can our collective behavior fail to progress, it can regress, like some huge return swing of a heavy (societal) pendulum.

    Liked by 1 person

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